An Argument For Why Black Thought Is The Greatest MC Of All Time (Video)
For almost 25 years, Black Thought has been putting his raspy voiced verses to record. The constant MC for The Roots crew has made a dozen albums, seemingly performed as much as any Rap artist, and is now typically on television five nights per week. More than just simply hard working, this songwriter and entertainer is nothing short of incredible.
However, Black Thought is a name that arguably does not come up often in the “GOAT” conversation. Why is that?
Justin “The Company Man” Hunte raises some important points in this week’s TBD episode. Moreover, Hunte gathered intel from some people that know Black Thought really well, including 9th Wonder, Statik Selektah, and DJ J. Period.
This analysis makes a powerful case for Thought as a top-ranking MC. For starters, he has remarkable control of his flow. Sometimes he rhymes fast, sometimes he rhymes slow. Those bars can be incredibly stuffed with words delivered in rhythmic order. Other times, Thought simplifies his verses and breaks into shorter, less elaborate structures. He uses circular breathing too (according to J. Period), which allows him to never appear as though he runs out of breath or gasps to get air. For the MC to a band, Black Thought is an instrument in his own way. He alters the pitch and cadence, can incorporate melody, and more.
Hunte observes, “Lyrically speaking, I love how Black Thought is in total control of his flow. The track is sublime, smoke and ride ready, and Thought’s vocals feel like another instrument. He does this constantly. Last year’s ‘Making A Murderer’ has a completely different feel and the same rings true.”
That track was a 9th Wonder and Styles P collaboration. The producer, 9th weighs in: “[Black] Thought is your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper. He’s the favorite rapper that nobody likes to say out loud. Of course you’re going to hear rappers say the Nas’ and the Jay’s, your usual suspects. It’s just a different air when he walks in the room around rappers, bruh. The air changes because everybody knows, ‘If I gotta get on a record with this dude, it’s a possibility I’m gonna get chewed.’ I think he’s a samurai when it comes to that. He’s highly respected. That’s why he [only] reaches out to the ones he truly respects. He reached out to Styles P. That’s how ‘Making A Murderer’ came about. We were gonna do an entire nine or 10 songs. something like that… It’s one thing to be respected. It’s another thing to be respected and also feared.”
Black Thought can shape-shift too. On 2004’s “Boom,” he paid homage to the Juice Crew’s Kool G Rap and Big Daddy Kane by reconstructing his writing and delivery as they would have. They have shown their approval ever since. He can work with Elvis Costello, Beanie Sigel, Vinnie Paz, John Legend, Big K.R.I.T., Styles P, and seemingly everyone in between. Heads see this in “Live Mixtape” performances with J. Period and frequently on Fallon. It’s not just in the studio, it’s real-time on stage, often in freestyle.
In many ways, like Jay Z or Eminem or Black Eyed Peas or Young MC, Thought is the mainstream’s portal to rapping through his NBC post. Hunte points out that nightly, through performances, sketches, and games, Black Thought shows the non-Hip-Hop world what rapping is, and he never loses authenticity in doing so.
So what’s the drawback? This video considers the facts that not only has Black Thought only released albums with his band, but they are concept albums. It is hard to pull out single songs or verses. The Roots, playing to their own base, seemingly stopped chasing radio 15 years ago. As a result, Heads may not get that memorable verse that they can run into, as can be the case with Jay, Nas, Em’, or Andre 3000. Also, The Roots have never sold like those other commonly-heard GOAT candidates. They’ve never had a #1 (or Top 3) album. Comparatively, the group is less successful commercially. Jay Z, 50 Cent, and others made sales count in many fans’ thinking.
Furthermore, Black Thought is low-key. He hides his eyes behind shades, typically shuns interviews, and monitors his brand. Hunte makes sure to point out that while low key, Black Thought does not lack showmanship. “I wouldn’t describe it as low on charisma. When you see him on stage or on TV you see charisma spilling. He’s definitely low on bombast, on spoken arrogance which is something we tend to equate with our favorite emcees. There’s a mystery to him largely because over the course of his career he didn’t enjoy doing interviews. Thought’s the lead MC. Questlove is the front-man. As a result, we don’t know much about him.” Even though Black Thought is an actor who has appeared in several titles, he is an enigma.
Hunte comes back to an archival Black Thought interview with Sway. There, the member of The Roots and The Money Making Jam Boys says it all: “I don’t think there’s no rapper more street than me. I’m street Street. Both my parents murder victims. I’ve done lived. I can talk about it but it’s not what defines me… It’s not what I wear on my sleeve. I’d rather wear my intelligence and my artistry on my sleeve. I’m definitely one of the best rappers. That’s just what it is.”
Hunte sums it up: “That’s the type of narrative that most rappers would emblazon across their chest like a Jesus piece. For Thought, that’s a footnote. Personal vulnerability isn’t what defines Tariq Trotter. There’s an artistic distance that remains between his art and his life. And one thing rap fans love, it’s when their favorite artists let them into their world. That’s one knock.”
As the video analytical essay points out, Black Thought continues to do GOAT-worthy things, almost on a daily basis.