In life there are people who view aging as a scary thing. Professionals in various industries might feel like they’ve loss some of their sharpness. Athletes deal with their bodies going through changes and injury. Our existence is an hour glass with sand that move slowly or rapidly, depending on one’s perspective. You see retirement upon the horizon or the energy and invigoration that was once felt, start to subside. Musicians on the other hand can be far more complicated. I’ve heard casual fans state that certain artists should hang up the microphone, place their instruments in a storage unit and step aside for the new flavor of the month. True music heads never respect this narrative. In some professions telling a person to hang it up might be acceptable but in music, this is blasphemous. True artists actually get better with time and age like fine wine. In the case of Tariq Trotter, he has never sounded more hungry, focused and excited about Hip Hop.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to debate several Hip-Hop Heads that I respect about the career of Tariq Trotter aka Black Thought. Let me first say that each person on the Podcast love Hip Hop and view Black Thought as a supreme talent. The conversation revolved around Black Thoughts subject matter and overall growth as an artist. I was on the side where I view Black Thought as a very diverse MC who has touched an array of topics throughout his career with The Roots as the lead MC as well as his solo work that fans are finally seeing, 25 years after The Roots released Organix in 1993. There were a few members of our team who stated that Black Thought at times just raps, without providing his story to the fans in a way that we truly get to know the MC. At least, that was my take from the exchange. The purpose of this piece is to prove this notion to be a perception that is definitely not a reality. With that being said, allow me to take a few minutes of your time to dig into the life of Black Thought through a few songs and verses shared over the years.
“Imagine my daughter drinking water from a fountain that says FOR COLORED GIRLS” – Black Thought
“Ain’t a lot of fun time when your son dying” – Black Thought
The other day I was sitting back listening to “I Remember” off The Roots 10th album UNDUN. Black Thought took 3 minutes to take a trip down memory lane and allow us to feel his passion in a more laid-back track. The melody, hook and production were the perfect blend for Black Thought to effortlessly express the feeling of looking in the mirror for self-actualization. As I skimmed through his discography (no disrespect to Malik B or Dice Raw), I fell upon a few more gems. Do I even need to mention “Dear God 2.0”? Don’t be lazy, go listen to this track and read the lyrics. The track is like a confession and testimony. I felt like I was listening to Tupac’s “Only God Can Judge Me Now”. At an rate, I was intrigued by the track “How to Hold a Choppa”, where Black Thought gives a short lesson on American History in 1:31. For a man to be haunted by Systematic Racism, Slavery and Inequality to the point where he is contemplating whether he should teach his son how to hold a gun. I mean, for a black man in this nation, there are so many layers to this realty.
The hour of reckonin’ is upon us, there’s enemies among us
Essentially in more than recent memory, they hung us
Public assembly to watch death become us
Better believe it but if not, check the numbers
Gramps told my father they sold his papa for gold and copper
Even though he was the strongest cropper
Now am I wrong if I teach my son to properly hold a choppa
And how to bring down a helicopter?
What’s the concept? The industrial prison complex
For niggas in the projects with they eyes shut
That still walk around blind to the conquest
That haven’t really realized what’s the time yet
No due process, the price is no object
When sentences match the crime, they do not yet
It’s been a war on the heavily melanated
For your own security, you better be educated, listen...
I’ve heard constructive criticism in regard to Black Thought not opening up (personality on the mic) unless it revolves around love influenced tracks with a woman being the centerpiece. Yes, I love “Break You Off”, “Complexity”, “You Got Me”, “The Hypnotic”, “Silent Treatment” and other songs where the MC was more Tariq Trotter as opposed to Black Thought. Now don’t get it twisted, these are each dope stories that showcase Tariq’s passion for companionship but of course, he is much more. With that being said, lets dive back into tracks such as “What They Do”, where Black Thought basically breaks down Commercial Hip Hop in 1996 on the classic album Illadelph Halflife. I’ve heard that Black Thought doesn’t stay on subject and at times raps just for the sake for rapping. Well, this was 3 potent verses that stayed the course and got the attention of New York MC’s. I remember NAS addressing this track during an interview around the time him and Jay-Z were battling. He felt that The Roots were attacking the legacy of Biggie, Mobb Deep and other acts. Oh, what about the track “Atonement” off the album Rising Down? Have you heard this track? Black Thought showed a human side and the extended verse showed him questioning spirituality. To me, the lyrics were short and to the point. In life, things are not always what they seem, yet we must live. The music to the track sets a thought provoking (no pun intended) mood. You see, there are double meaning and layers to his lyrics.
**Never do what they do, what they do, what they do**
Lost generation, fast paced nation
World population confront they frustration
The principles of true hip-hop have been forsaken
It's all contractual and about money makin'
Pretend-to-be cats don't seem to know they limitation
Exact replication and false representation - “What They Do”
I drew a 2 of hearts from a deck of cards
A stock trick from my empty repertoire
Another hopeless story never read at all
I’m better off looking for the end
Where the credits are
It’s a pain living life against the grain
I’m looking back and y’all look the same
Troy, Mark, and little what’s his name
Memory is rerunning it all
It’s the flight of my fall and it’s right on the wall - “I Remember”
I know some readers are saying “Hey, can you list a few songs or a playlist?”. Yes, I will list a few songs for those who don’t like to read but stuck with me on this journey. As you can see, this is the final paragraph. Before I forget, go watch the videos for “Sleep” and “Never” on Youtube. I would be negligent in my stance if I didn’t mention “Twofifteen” off the Streams of Thought project released a few months ago with 9th Wonder. On “Twofifteen”, Black Thought gives the listeners a taste of Soul Food in the neighborhood, lessons from his Grandfather, Crime Wars in Philly, and growing up African American. Black Thought even linked the song to Slavery in Africa. The line “I was a King and General, rich in every resource, precious metal and mineral…before the devil entered the land of the plentiful”. I mean, the potency of this track goes without saying. Black Thought is a rappers rapper. Yes, there are tracks where he display lyrical greatness, breath control and an amazing flow. On the other hand, Black Thought is underrated in regard to his “RANGE” as an MC. Jay-Z once said “Do you listen to music or skim through it?” In our microwave society fans are entitled. Fans have short attention spans and will not do the knowledge. If you don’t see the evolution in Black Thought’s pen game, deepness and subject matter over the past 10 years, I don’t know what to tell you. MC’s with layers push listeners to research words for meaning and understanding. This is why we love Rakim, NAS, GZA, and Mos Def. This is why we loved Chuck D. I honestly believe that from 1993 to the present date (2018), Black Thought has provided listeners with every aspect of being a total MC. Through music, Black Thought has shared his childhood, family dynamics, spirituality, love interest, passion for the culture, stage presence, consistent touring (The Roots), guest appearances and the ability to grow with time. What else do you want? With that being said, I can’t wait to see The Roots and Tariq Trotter on stage again. I believe it’s safe to say there is no expiration date on dopeness.
“Atonement”, “Sleep”, “Twofifteen”, “What They Do”, “Champion”, “The Other Side”, “The Fire”, “Dear God 2.0”, “I Remember”, “Unwritten”, “How To Hold A Choppa”, “Get Outlined”, “Conception”, “Now or Never”, “Unravelling” “Never”, “Guns Are Drawn”, “Why”, “Pussy Galore”, “Right On” and “Clock With No Hands”……
Recommended Verses: Black Starr “Respiration Remix” and about 25 other ones… You can use your friend Google.