Malik Abdul-Basit, 47, who was a founding member of the Roots and played a prominent role on the group’s early albums Organix and Illadelph Halflife in the 1990s, has died.
News of the death of the rapper, who performed using the name Malik B., was first reported Tuesday on Twitter by his cousin, the journalist Don Champion, who said he was “mourning my beloved cousin today. He was so talented and had a huge heart.” Champion did not give a cause or place of death.
Roots leaders Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter confirmed Mr. Abdul-Basit’s death in a statement to The Inquirer, saying, “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.”
Trotter and Mr. Abdul-Basit began working together when they were students at Millersville University in the early 1990s. Mr. Abdul-Basit’s talent stood out on such early Roots tracks as the jazzy “Mellow My Man” on 1995′s Do You Want More?!!!??! and “Respond/React” on 1996′s Illadelph, in which he and Trotter went toe-to-toe on two verses each.
Mr. Abdul-Basit rhymed that he and the already well-traveled group were “in your system like glycerin / Fans listenin', from Michigan to Switzerland,” and boasted of his “street mentality, mixed with the intellect. ... You woke the wiser, dealing with the Roots vocalizer / Up in your flesh from South Philly to West.”
In the band’s hard-touring early days, Mr. Abdul-Basit would often stay home in Philadelphia when the rest of the group hit the road, sitting out the band’s 1996 tour opening for the Beastie Boys. He ceased to be a permanent member of the group after their breakthrough album, Things Fall Apart, in 1999, after having joked about his frequent absences from the band on that album’s hard-hitting “Adrenaline”: “Yeah, Malik B. from the Roots, he ain’t gone / I took the wrong exit, the sign said Langhorne.”
The song “Water (The First Movement)” on the Roots’ 2002 album Phrenology was dedicated to Mr. Abdul-Basit. Trotter remembered the early days of the band in the song — ”Lot of time at the shows, people hardly came” — and alluded to his fellow rapper’s drug problems and other struggles: “It was a couple of things, lil’ syrup, lil’ pills / Instead of riding out on the road, you’d rather chill.”
Mr. Abdul-Basit continued to contribute occasionally to Roots albums, rhyming on “Here I Come,” “In The Music,” and the title track on 2006′s Game Theory, always delivering memorable, concise verses. He also released an EP that year called Psychological, and in 2015 put out the collaborative album Unpredictable with producer Mr. Green, of whom Mr. Abdul-Basit said, “Our chemistry is just crazy. Our chemistry is like algebra.”
On Tuesday, Trotter paid tribute to Mr. Abdul-Basit on Instagram, where he called him “my beloved brother M-illitant” and said, “Your steel sharpened my steel.” He wrote: “We made a lane 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 a mere fraction of your true gift and potential.”