Malik B., Founding Member of The Roots, Dies at 47

Malik B., rapper and founding member of The Roots, has died, according to the hip-hop band’s social media statement Wednesday (July 29). He was 47. No cause of death has been revealed.

“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,” the group wrote on Instagram. “We ask that you please respect his family and extended family in our time of mourning such a great loss.”

His cousin Don Champion broke the news on Twitter when he reshared old performance footage of Malik B. at NYC’s The Bowery Electric. “Mourning my beloved cousin today. He was so talented and had a huge heart. I still remember when he and The Roots were starting out,” Champion wrote. “He’d give me and my dad their cassette tapes to listen to. I miss you already, Mailk. #RIP.”

Fellow Roots founding member and MC Black Thought also shared a personal reflection on his own Instagram account. “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,” the MC penned. “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 bi—. 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.”

He continued: “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 Abdul Basit in The Roots’ home base of Philadelphia, Penn., he befriended high school buddies Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, who began performing together under the name Square Roots in 1987, while they attended Millersville University in Lancaster. They officially dropped “Square” from their Square Roots hip-hop ensemble name in 1992 before moving to London and releasing their debut album Organix the following year.

Malik B.’s claim to fame arose from The Roots’ major label debut album Do You Want More?!!!??! from 1995, when he and Black Thought’s raps reigned supreme under the group’s early tenure at DGC/Geffen. He also recorded songs on Illadelph Halflife in 1996 and Things Fall Apart in 1999 before eventually leaving the group at the turn of the millennium.

Black Thought reflected on his initial meeting and crucial camaraderie with Malik B. on the 2002 LP Phrenology, the first album The Roots released after the departure of the South Philly MC. He penned an open letter to Malik B. on “Water,” which discussed the rapper’s integral role in the group’s rise to fame and subsequent exit due to drug temptations from the neighborhood.

But even after he left, The Roots welcomed him and his verses back with loving arms by featuring him on tracks, such as “Game Theory,” “In The Music” and “Here I Come” from their 2006 LP Game Theory and “I Can’t Help It” and “Lost Desire” from their 2008 LP Rising Down, which marked his last contributions to The Roots. In the liner notes for Game Theory, the group thanked him for reprising his role as MC by writing in a statement, “Welcome Home.”

Malik B. released one EP Psychological in 2006 and two albums in his solo career, Street Assault in 2005 and Unpredictable in 2015 with producer Mr. Green.

Read Malik B. tribute posts from The Roots and his family below.