Black Thought Lists His Top 5 MCs & The Reasons He’s A GOAT (Video)
The latest episode of the Touré Show podcast released this week, and the guest is none other than Black Thought of The Roots. This insightful conversation (named “How To MC”) took place in late 2017 at the Brooklyn Museum and was filmed in front of a live audience of a couple of hundred people during the recent Brooklyn Conference. Historically, Black Thought is not known for interviews as revealing as this. The rapper speaks about his murdered parents and grim life outlook as a teen. He also responds to many fans’ labeling him Rap’s G.O.A.T. MC, and also suggests that he may have been a “mumble rap” pioneer.
In discussing Hip-Hop’s new generation in the first segment, Thought points out that 2004 Roots’ Scott Storch-produced single “Don’t Say Nuthin'” features overt mumbling (1:00 in) from one of the genre’s elite MCs. Shortly after this, he gets into how he gets stuck on using certain words in rhymes and gives “algorithm” as an example. Touré asks what he rhymed the noun with and he shares the bars around the 10:50 mark:
“Things we’ve lost in the fire / The drive, the desire / To perform on a higher/ Plateau / I’m at a Rap show / Lost in the mire / Wondering how we got so far from inspired / Back when photos were sepia-toned /And a record player was something you’d keep in your home / The Night Traveler (the meaning of Tariq), he was known / For the exemplary performance uniquely his own / Making the 21 pound for some a newfound religion / When money is put down, there’s only one sound that makes O.G.’s and young lions equally proud to listen / The secret amalgam-ism of algorithm.”
Thought admits that he made up the word “amalgam-ism,” but points out that a qualified MC is licensed (and should) create language in verse. He speaks further on what he thinks it takes to be a quality master of ceremony and stresses mastery of the English language and breath control. Thought proclaims himself a lover of words and suggests more peers pick up the dictionary. The South Philadelphia native speaks about circular breathing around the 15:35 mark, explaining how the technique is based on breathing from the diaphragm rather than the chest. This was a trait in The Roots’ MC that his frequent DJ, J. Period spoke to Ambrosia For Heads about last year in a piece about Black Thought’s status as a Rap G.O.A.T. Touré posed that concept directly to Thought. At 21:00, he responds. “Today, I think I’m one of the greatest of all time.” The crowd laughs and applauds. Tariq continues, “Sometimes I feel underrated, but when we get into ratings, I’ve never seen myself underrated. Like, when people are ranking artists—ranking MCs, rappers of all-time, dead or alive, or whatever, I’m always in that Top 10. I feel like that’s not [bad]; there have so many other artists who came out before I came out, and since I’ve been out here, doin’ my thing. I feel like that’s great company to be in.”
While the convo’ switches to the philosophical debate of Hip-Hop (Black Thought’s relationship with the music of today and his opinion on the concept of Hip-Hop being dead), Touré makes sure to veer back to Thought’s obsession with specific words. Tariq talks about how he is about to work “vehicular” into a verse and says that the last word he was infatuated with was “obsidian.” He managed to fit the mineral name into a freestyle he performed while speaking at Harvard in early 2016. He gave a short sample of it around the 31:30 mark:
“Black as obsidian / Black as oblivion / Black as the sky at midnight, Alta meridian / I’m black as a portrait with Diddy, Tupac and Biggie in / Black as the influence on the culture we’re living in.
Toward the end of the 37-minute podcast Q&A, Thought lists his Top 5 all-time MCs as Rakim, Kool G. Rap, Big Daddy Kane, KRS-One, and Chuck D without a moment of hesitation. But then he says that on any given day it might be different and lists Ice Cube, Cold Crush Brothers’ Grandmaster Caz, and Kool Moe Dee as three more icons that he holds in high regard.
However, the conversation ends on an especially revealing note. Tariq speaks about his family, some rare insight from a creative mind that often communicates his public-facing story exclusively through verse. “When I was a young person, when I was 15 years old, for instance, there wasn’t much that I believed in—just because I didn’t have a reason to.” Earlier in the discussion, Thought says his delivery is partly inspired by Black church pastors he witnessed in his community. “If you asked me what I saw myself doing at 25 or 30 when I was 15, I couldn’t see myself still being here, on earth. Just because, who lived to be that old? Show me five people from the neighborhood who are 30.”
Touré, who has known Black Thought since the band was known as The Square Roots, asked the MC if his parents were around then. “Both my parents are murder victims,” he reveals at the 35:00 mark. “My father [was murdered] when I was super young, like before I turned two. My mother [was murdered] when I was 16 years old. But I’m thankful and grateful every day because I feel like my trajectory was something totally different.”
Since his astonishing 10-minute Funkmaster Flex freestyle went viral in December (two months after this was taped), Thought’s name has been buzzing, not just in Hip-Hop circles, but with music fans in general. When it was announced, last week, that the Philly lyricist would be doing an EP with producer extraordinaire 9th Wonder, that interest surged further.
#BonusBeat: A TBD episode with contributions from 9th Wonder and J. Period on why Black Thought might be the Greatest MC Of All-Time: