Malik B. Dead: Founding Member of The Roots Was 47

Malik B The Roots

Facebook/Malik B Malik B. pictured on his Facebook page in December 2013.

Malik B., a founding member of The Roots, has died at the age of 47. Malik B.’s cause of death has not been made public. The rapper’s real name was Malik Abdul Basit.

Basit, a native of Philadelphia, left The Roots in 1999. He had performed on the band’s first four albums and returned to the group as a session rapper. Basit appeared on the band’s 2006 album Game Theory on three songs and on the 2008 album Rising Down on the songs “I Can’t Help It” and “Lost Desire.”

A statement on The Roots’ official Instagram page read, “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. 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.”

Basit’s death was confirmed in a tweet from his collaborator Mr. Green, who tweeted on July 29, “rip to the great Malik B, this one hurts.” Basit and Mr. Green collaborated on the 2015 album Unpredictable.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. One Friend Said Basit ‘Lived a Rough Life Battling Addiction’

Rapper Jakk Frost said in a Facebook post that Basit had “lived a rough life battling addiction.” Frost added, “Ask Allah to forgive his sins and give him a comfortable grave.” Frost said that he and Basit were both Muslims and that they prayed together. Prior to the release of Unpredictable, Hip-Hop DX noted that Basit had performed with the group The Beard Gang alongside Frost and fellow Philadelphia rapper Freeway.

Another Philadelphia rapper, Reef the Lost Cauze, tweeted about Basit’s death, “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.”

Basit’s former bandmate Black Thought wrote a lengthy tribute to the late rapper in an Instagram post that read in part, “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.”

2. The Roots’ Song ‘Water’ Is an ‘Open Letter to Malik B’

Basit’s reason for leaving The Roots has not been confirmed. According to the page for The Roots song “Water,” the track makes reference to Basit leaving the group. The description of the song reads in part, “‘Water’ is basically an open letter from Black Thought to Malik B.” The description goes on to say that it was an attempt to explain how “such a talented guy could get caught up in the drug temptations of South Philly.” In the song, Basit is referred to by the nickname “Slacks.”

Writer Aaron Ellis wrote about Basit’s departure from The Roots in May 2012 in response to a question on Quora. Ellis listed four possible reasons for the rapper’s departure. They were, “Creative differences,” “Touring,” “Drug Abuse” and “Legal Issues.” Ellis said that Basit was jailed in 2000 for forgery and was returned to prison due to a parole violation “shortly after his release.” Ellis also wrote that Basit became homesick after The Roots attained international stardom and preferred to stay closer to home.

3. Basit Released 2 Solo Albums

Following his departure from The Roots, Basit released two solo albums. The first in 2006 was titled Psychological. That was followed in 2015 with Unpredictable. A review on Rap Review of Unpredictable remarks on Basit sounding “rabid” at times and using the album to share “some passionate grievances of his.” The review also said that his “presence feels completely natural” and “less excessive” than other rappers.

Thanks to his work with The Roots, Basit has been credited on the soundtracks of high-profile movies such as Superbad, Hancock and Zoolander 2, according to his IMDb page.

4. Basit Had Been Inactive on His Social Media Since 2013

Basit has been inactive on his official Facebook page since April 2019. He describes himself on that page as “a hip-hop artist who was a member of The Roots from the early 1990s to their 2000-2001 tour.” Basit has been silent on his Twitter page since July 2013.

The Fader magazine’s Abbey Goodman once described Basit as speaking in an accent that sounded “vaguely Apu from The Simpsons/vaguely Eastern European.” During the interview, Basit told Goodman that his name translated from Arabic to English meant “God, like King or “keeper of Hell,” depending on the pronunciation.

5. Basit Said in a 2015 Interview, ‘I’m a Survivor, by Any Means’

Basit said in a 2015 interview with Arena about his song, “We Gonna Make it,” which was viewed as a response to The Roots song “Water,” “I’m a survivor, by any means. I’ll work with whatever I have, I’m that type of person. Regardless of the situation, you have your up’s and your down’s, I’m definitely gonna make it.”

Basit said his song was “not particularly” inspired by “Water.” He went on to say that at the time he wrote his song he was living in a “transitional house.” He added that Nate Green, who worked on the song, got him thinking, “‘Don’t be in a state of despair; don’t be sad.’ Whether it’s financial or spiritual, or whatever, just don’t break yourself; s***’s gonna get better. I just want to put that out for everybody.”

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