The Roots
Search Menu

Meaning of the song ‘What They Do’ by ‘The Roots’

Released: 1996

“What They Do” by The Roots is a deep-seated criticism of the contemporary hip-hop scene, expressing discontent with its commercialization and loss of originality. The track calls out artists for their lack of creativity, pretentiousness, and desire for fame and money, while asserting that true hip-hop must remain rooted in skill and authenticity.

Kicking off with a potent chorus “Never do What they do”, the track lays the groundwork for the critique that follows, urging listeners to eschew imitation and champion originality. The verse that follows portrays the roots’ dissatisfaction with the “lost generation” of hip-hop. They lament how artists have forsaken the principles of real hip-hop for money-making ventures, creating a façade of authenticity while failing to understand or respect the genre’s heritage.

The “pretend-to-be cats” refers to those artists who posture or imitate without the requisite skills or understanding of the genre. They are described as roaming, implying a sense of aimlessness or lack of grounding. The phrase “an original somethin'”, shows their disdain for inauthenticity. It’s a call to bring back originality and substance in Hip-Hop rather than chasing superficial success.

The lines “Thin is the line that run between love and hatred” explore the thin line between admiration and imitation, suggesting that while it’s okay to be influenced, outright copying is not acceptable. The phrase “Go as far as they can take it”, implies the narrow vision of such artists, who tend to ride the wave of their one hit wonder, often leading to their downfall.

“I’m Black Thought, used to rap for sport. Now the rhyme-sayin’, rent payin’ life support” reflects the shifts in the artist’s intimacies with the craft, from a pastime to a means of livelihood. His dedication, however, has not flinched, which he reinforces by saying –“I take it very seriously within this industry”.

The final verse “Livin’ the life of limos and lights” provides a glimpse into how fame and success can lead to a different lifestyle, far removed from the hardships and struggles that initially inspired the artist. The lyric “we let the ladies blend with the dark-skinned thoroughbred” is a nod to the elite status achieved in the industry whilst maintaining the raw essence of their identity.

In conclusion, “What They Do” is a daring critique, a mirror held up to the faces of inauthentic players in the hip-hop industry. Through a mastery of lyrics and narrative, The Roots reclaim the essence and tradition of Hip-Hop, reminding us all to “Never do What they do”.

Related Posts