The Roots

"Things Fall Apart" Turns 15: Interview With Ursula Rucker On "The Return To Innocence Lost"

posted February 24, 2014 07:00:00 AM CST | 3 comments

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HipHopDX Exclusive. With The Roots' breakout album "Things Fall Apart," turning 15, Ursula Rucker details the poem that encompassed TFA's powerful track.

“It’s about choices made in life, as wrong as often as they’re right, and the fact that time extends past that, into a place where new choices have to be made.” - Questlove on "The Return to Innocence" in his memoir Mo’ Meta Blues...

“The Return to Innocence Lost” off The Roots' fourth studio album Things Fall Apart isn’t just powerful, it’s also a harrowing affair. At the very end of the album, Ursula realistically illustrates the law of cause and effect by taking us through a vivid disaster, that for some is still a stark reality. The 1958 book the album is named after, written by Chinua Achebe, is credited for portraying Africans (in the book: the Igbo people) in a sympathetic light, unlike literature before it. By the end of Ursula’s closing poem, it’s absolutely apparent that The Roots took the concept of "artistic cohesiveness" to new levels. What they did for Hip Hop, at that particular time, was exactly what Chinua Achebe did for the subjects of his novel; it humanized.

HipHopDX exclusively spoke to Urusula Rucker about the album’s 15th anniversary, The Roots' legacy, and what it was like to be the final punctuation in a modern opus.

On writing “The Return To Innocence Lost”...

“I actually had done a different poem originally. And then [The Roots] decided that that wasn’t exactly what they were looking for so I wrote this. The thing that I did originally was something that I already had written. So then they wanted to go in a different direction and I’m glad they did! It brought "The Return to Innocence Lost" out of me. I actually wrote most of that on a plane. I was quite pregnant with my second son. I was very uncomfortable on the plane. I was in the last row and pregnant and very irritable and what not. It was actually the perfect head space to be in.”

On recording ‘The Return To Innocence Lost”...

“The thing about “Return to Innocence Lost” that I particularly remember that was super cool was I said, “It’d be really cool to have a haunting beginning.” We were talking about that eerie ice cream truck sound, like in a horror movie or something. Ant Tidd, who’s an amazing musician, he was there, and there was a Rhodes so we tried something. Ahmir [Questlove] was like, “Hey, try this!” And he played the Rhodes. I call it the empty Rhodes because it wasn’t really on. He was just hitting the keys and it was so eerie, but it was so perfect. I’ll never forget him playing that and breathing in between. We teased him that he was doing his Method Man thing...but it worked! It was so amazing how it added to the intensity.”

On the role of Things Fall Apart in The Roots’ legacy...

Things Fall Apart, was definitely for them; it was pivotal. How many artists, period, and then how many Hip Hop artists do an album with a serious novel? Things Fall Apart [the book] was actually an important novel for me during my college years. It was something that resonated with me already. So, I thought it was so cool, building an album with that theme and inspired by that novel."

On what “The Return to Innocence Lost” means to her...

“‘The Return to Innocence’ still is, to date, my most personal piece that I have ever written in my whole entire life. If I ever attempt to enter that arena again, it’s going to be difficult for me because I did reach a personal pinnacle with writing that. It was very scary. For a long time I lied and would say to people that it wasn’t really true...

...it definitely opened up the channels for me to not sensor myself ever again. So it was a really important moment for me to know that I could be free with what I said as long as I [had] no intentions to offend, but still be open and free and not be afraid to let it all fly.”

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