Black Thought & Salaam Remi Explain Why Thought’s New Album Sounds Different
This morning (November 26), Black Thought released his second album of 2018. That project, Streams Of Thought, Vol. 2: Traxploitation, is entirely produced by Salaam Remi. The Queens, New Yorker and past “Producer Of The Year” Grammy nominee is known for his acclaimed work with Amy Winehouse, Nas, The Fugees, and Miguel. Over two sessions, the two veterans made something that stands apart from Black Thought’s discography of the last 25 years.
In a making-of-the-album video premiered at Ambrosia For Heads, both men describe the process behind creating S.O.T.2. The union began out of a 2016 “writers retreat” organized by The Roots. At Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios enclave, the same place that the Soulquarians called home 20 years ago, Black Thought, Questlove, and the team invited respected peers to jam out and create things with The Roots for an entire week. Salaam Remi was one of the producers, songwriters, and vocalists that joined the New York City gathering. “Salaam contributed a lot,” says Thought. “There’s some [things] that he contributed at that time that just had a different feel. From that, I got the itch to work on a different project with Salaam.” Last year it was revealed that Remi and Black Thought’s previous album partner, 9th Wonder, were attached to The Roots’ upcoming album.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say [on this album]. But I wanted it to be visual. I wanted it to be thought-provoking. I wanted it to be distinctively mature,” admits Black Thought. “The difference in working with Salaam in the studio is the approach. [His approach] is to build the track, the vision, the experience, around the vocalist.”
Salaam Remi’s discography shows that he knows how to make voices take center-stage in an era of over-production. “The vocal is always the main and first instrument. It’s like scoring movies, basically, and having it in a way where the dialogue is what’s happening and what you’re really paying attention to—the action. The music is [there] to really make you feel what’s going on,” he says. “For me, [Black Thought] being a brilliant writer who—in my opinion—people haven’t really heard a lot of the things that he said that were brilliant on the level [of] where they should have because they’ve just been distracted by other elements.”
The producer says he wanted to step beyond the music Black Thought has made over the last quarter century. “I didn’t look at the 14 or 15 albums that they’ve completed as a band, The Roots, or even the different features that he’s done, as what should happen next. I wanted to hear from him what he wanted to have happen next,” says Salaam.
The two artists shared input on the album’s nine songs. Each began with a conversation, sketching out ideas and comparing visions. Both made suggestions, with Black Thought creating the guideposts for what has become his second solo project. In the video, Thought states the unique experience. “The other thing that makes a Salaam Remi session [unique] is the fact that he plays every instrument.” Versus waiting for session musicians or needing to pull samples, Salaam was able to adapt in the studio, on the spot.
Salaam Remi sees this album’s importance at a time when the live show can often be better than the studio version. “There’s two different arts. There’s an art of knowing how to rock a stage, and there’s an art of knowing how to rock two-and-a-half minutes out of a speaker that makes you feel like you’re on stage.”