Black Thought Explains Why Kool G Rap’s “Road To The Riches” Is His Favorite Verse (Video)

In 2004, The Roots released their sixth album, The Tipping Point. The Philadelphia, Pennsylvania group’s final album for Geffen Records contained an Easter egg of sorts for Hip-Hop Heads. The Dice Raw-assisted “Boom!” featured band front-man Black Thought paying homage to two of his MC inspirations: Big Daddy Kane and Kool G Rap. Thought spit verses in the styles of the Brooklyn and Queens, respectively. In the album credits, the two lyrical legends, along with their mentor, Marley Marl, were listed along with The Roots as songwriters. Two months after release, The Roots invited Kane and G Rap to the stage to do the song for Dave Chappelle’s Block Party. The musical moment made the theatrical film and its soundtrack.

Appearing on Pitchfork’s VERSES series, Tariq Trotter opens up about what G Rap means to him, and why 1988’s “Road To The Riches” is his favorite verse of all time.

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“Kool G Rap has always been like super scalpel-sharp,” Thought admits, as he breaks into the verse, demonstrating Nathaniel Wilson’s machine-gun-like delivery. “[His flow] was repetitive in that way—but in a good way, in a way that was inspiring to me, and sort of rubbed off, whether it was what I was trying to do or not. That was impressed upon me.”

Of the second single belonging to 1989’s Road To The Riches, Thought says, “The first time I heard ‘Road To The Riches’ I was in ninth or tenth grade. I had recently formed a Rap group with my partner, who was a drummer at the time, who would later go by the name of Questlove. And I would later call myself Black Thought. We would later become The Roots, but I don’t know what we were called at that time.” Thought adds that he was working at the Pizzeria Uno chain restaurant in Philadelphia. “I remember I had a yellow, sort of sports Walkman that was chunky and you could drop it without breaking it and stuff. I would listen to this record on my way to work and on my way home, at three o’clock in the morning, after [a shift as a porter]. I just really identified with the story.” Thought calls it a rags-to-riches tale, which he—in a “rags” phase of life, bonded closely with. The Philly MC considers G Rap’s narrative “well-rounded,” but he liked the fact that the lyricist stated that he worked as a porter in a restaurant. “It sort of gave me hope as an artist that where I was in life, I wasn’t necessarily destined to be there forever.” G Rap’s song narrator even references being a porter in the lyrics.

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“I feel like at its best, art is able to define just as much darkness as there is light—or vice versa—at the same time. So what’s happening in this song is just that. It’s a glamorous life, so he’s being descriptive of it. He’s speaking about it in a very real way. But also, [he is] talking about the perils,” says Thought, who notes that the song’s descriptions of drug sales, territorial violence, and community exploitation resonated with what he witnessed in South Philly at that time. In the closing moments of walking the viewer through the final verse,” Thought walks away in emphasis of how great the writing is. In 2015, Black Thought freestyled to the same Marley Marl-produced instrumental for the BET Hip Hop cypher.

Last month, G Rap released Son Of G Rap with MC, 38 Spesh. That album, featuring production by DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Showbiz, and Alchemist, is available for full stream and purchase on Ambrosia For Heads. Earlier this year, Thought released Streams Of Thought, Vol. 1, produced by 9th Wonder & The Soul Council. That project is included in AFH‘s best of 2018, so far, list.

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#BonusBeat: The Roots performing “The Symphony” in 2016 with Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, Craig G, as well as Royce 5’9, Pharoahe Monch, Smif-n-Wessun, Freeway, and DJ J. Period: