Malik B., the rapper who was a longtime member of the Roots from their formative years, has died. The group confirmed the rapper’s death to Rolling Stone, though no cause of death or other details were provided.
“It is with heavy hearts and tearful eyes that we regretfully inform you of the passing of our beloved brother and long time Roots member Malik Abdul Basit,” the Roots’ Questlove and Black Thought said in a statement. “May he be remembered for his devotion to Islam, His loving brotherhood and His innovation as one of the most gifted MCs of all time. We ask that you please respect his family and extended family in our time of mourning such a great loss.”
Black Thought added on Instagram, “We made a name and carved a lane together where there was none. We [resurrected] a city from the ashes, put it on our backs and called it Illadelph. In friendly competition with you from day one, I always felt as if I possessed only a mere fraction of your true gift and potential. Your steel sharpened my steel as I watched you create cadences from the ether and set them free into the universe to become poetic law, making the English language your bitch. I always wanted to change you, to somehow sophisticate your outlook and make you see that there were far more options than the streets, only to realize that you and the streets were one… and there was no way to separate a man from his true self. My beloved brother M-illitant. I can only hope to have made you as proud as you made me. The world just lost a real one. May Allah pardon you, forgive your sins and grant you the highest level of paradise.”
Born Malik Basit in the Roots’ native Philadelphia, the MC linked up in the early Nineties with the Square Roots drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and fellow MC Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, who became friends with Basit while the two were students at Millersville University.
After changing their name to the Roots, the group released their 1993 album Organix, which was followed by their breakout major label debut, 1995’s Do You Want More?!!!??!, with Malik B. and Black Thought splitting verses on nearly every track.
Basit also appeared on 1996’s Illadelph Halflife and 1999’s Things Fall Apart before he left the Roots; On the Roots’ “Water” from 2002’s Phrenology, their first album without Basit, Black Thought details how he and Malik B. got together musically, as well as examines the drug issues that ultimately led to Basit’s exit from the group. “Dumbin, just embracing the dope like it’s a woman,” Black Thought rhymed on the track. “You burnin’ both sides of the rope and just pullin’ / Tuggin’, in between Islam and straight thuggin’.”
Although Malik B. left the Roots at the turn of the millennium, the rapper continued to make guest appearances on the group’s albums, including the title track to 2006’s Game Theory and Rising Down’s “I Can’t Help It” and “Lost Desire” in 2008, his last two guest spots with the Roots.
In the two decades following his departure from the Roots, Basit intermittently returned to music, first with his 2005 mixtape Street Assault and his 2015 Unpredictable collaboration with producer Mr. Green.
Philadelphia rapper Reef the Lost Cauze tweeted Wednesday, “Heartbroken to hear of the passing of Malik B, one of the greatest MC’s to ever come from this city. He had his troubles for sure, but dude inspired a whole generation of us to touch the mic. Myself included. May he rest peacefully.”