Chinua Achebe, Author Of Things Fall Apart And Inspiration To The Roots, Dies In Boston At The Age Of 82
Over 15 years ago, the Roots started recording sessions for Things Fall Apart at Electric Lady Studios in Manhattan alongside what we now know to be a collective called the Soulquarians. Simultaneously recording alongside greats like D’Angelo, Erykah Badu and Common, there was a movement of brilliance cultivated in those last years of the ’90s. And perhaps right at the epicenter of it is the Roots’ Things Fall Apart, their fourth and then most successful effort to date, sales-wise AND critically. The author of the 1958 novel of the same name, Chinua Achebe, passed away today and it’s important to take a brief moment to salute the just-passed 82-year-old titan of African literature.
Things was his first novel, which is quite a feat. Since its initial publishing, the story of Okonkwo and Nigeria’s struggle with colonialism has been translated into 45 languages and sold over 10 million copies. It makes lots of sense for the Roots to be so inspired by this novel, even enough to name their groundbreaking moment in the hip-hop time space continuum: the themes are all here. The struggle of Okonkwo is one that Quest and Black Thought know well – the clash of cultures, the inevitable conflict of changing societal traditions and values, and the imposing, destructive powers of Christianity and white culture’s imposition of their value system over a long-standing set of norms and mores. These themes are not foreign to the likes of Fela Kuti and Malcom X; two other significant authors and activists who’ve certainly informed the Roots’ politically-aware brand of smart, lyrically pungent and jazzy hip-hop.
Achebe’s more than just an inspiration to the Roots and their iconic album, of course. He’s a legend. His DEBUT novel, one of the first African-born English language novels to make its way to high school classrooms in white America, is a masterpiece and its legacy will clearly go on for another slew of decades. “100% Dundee” shouts out Achebe in name, but the whole record modernizes the handful of themes that his novel so expertly puts into a context of conversation about race and culture. It’s so rich it’s like an English teacher’s dream – there’s meaty content that feeds dialogues on race, gender, identity, fatherhood, motherhood, imperialism, tradition, family structure, survivalism, pride, and ego. Amen.