By Rashad D. Grove
(AllHipHop Features) When it comes to any discussion of the top MC’s, if Tariq Trotter, also known as Black Thought, doesn’t appear on your list, then your list is in complete. In other words, if Black Thought is not in your top 5, your list is trash. In fact, any MC list that doesn’t include the lyrical phenomenon we’ve come to know and love as Black Thought, your credibility as a hip-hop head is immediately called into question.
Born in South Philly, Black Thought co-founded The Roots along with drum prodigy Amir “Questlove” Thompson while they were both students at the Philadelphia High School For the Creative and Performing Arts (Attending the same institution at the same time was Boyz II Men, R&B songstress Amel Larrieux, and bassists Christian McBride). They developed their sound and eventually added members to become full hip-hop band, cutting their teeth by performing on the streets of Philly.
Since The Roots debuted with Ogranix in 1993, Black Thought has been meticulously honing his reputation as an elite MC. Over the span of 25 years, with albums that have been critically acclaimed and commercially successful, taking home several Grammys, curating music festivals, slaughtering every solo appearance and freestyle he jumps on, Black Thought has had one of the most accomplished careers for a hip-hop artist.
In the last few years, Thought has gained mainstream attention, on his own terms, as an actor and as a sideman on NBC's The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, where the Roots are husband. The Roots have served in this capacity since 2009 when they first began backing Fallon on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
Just this year, Thought has dropped two albums from his Streams of Thought series. Volume 1 features production from 9th Wonder and Volume 2 pairs him with Salaam Remi, proving his viability as a top-tier MC. Here are the top 5 reasons why black Thought should be in your top 5 MC list.
The mark of truly great MC is consistency. Throughout the ebbs and flows of hip-hop music, the changes in style, and what have you, Black Thought has remained at the forefront of dexterous lyricism since he emerged on the scene in 1993. As the front man for the Roots, Thought has a remarkable discography that includes fourteen solo studio albums, three collaborative studio albums, three compilation albums, two extended plays, two live albums, and now two solo recordings. Thought has a global audience and plays sold-out shows to thousands all across the world.
He has never fallen off nor have his skills ever diminished. Like fine wine, his have gotten better with time. While many of his contemporaries are on the margins of the hip-hop landscape for a plethora of reasons, Thought is still on the cutting edge and has introduced himself to a new generation of listeners. His consistency is finally getting him the attention that his fans have always known that he deserved.
Besides Master/Mistress of Ceremonies, the term MC also means “Move the Crowd.” In either regard, Black Thought is the personification of an MC. Without hyperbole, Thought is arguably the best live performing MC of all-time. If you have never seen Black Thought live on stage, with The Roots band providing the sonic backdrop, then you have missed out on MCing at its very best. On stage, Thought is really in his element and his lyrical exploits creates a gulph between him and the majority of rappers in the game. As understated as he can be, when he hits that stage, he’s a showman. As the lead MC/Vocalist for the legendary Roots crew, the greatest band in the world, he established himself as a working MC by spending countless days, weeks, months, and years on the road perfecting his craft.
Anyone can luck up and make a hit song. Some may even make a good album. But the totality of an artist’s body of work is what ultimately defines them. Black Thought’s catalog is second to none. Not many MC’s, let alone any artists of any genre that can boast of releasing of 20 albums and still be relevant 25 years later. Black Thought and The Roots have been gifting to the world conceptual and creative projects that have stood the test of time. Resisting the temptation to follow whatever was hot at the time, Thought’s career proves that skills always outlast trends.
Respect Among Peers
The true test of greatness in any field of endeavor is how one’s peers view them. Black Thought’s status as an impeccable MC is known in hip-hop circles, especially among his fellow emcees. The late great Big Punisher enlisted Thought in one of the greatest back and forth tracks, “Super Lyrical,” which he regarded Thought as his favorite MC.
The legendary Houston MC Scarface has talked about Thought’s spit game with high praise and Wu-Tang’s own Method Man after freestyling with Thought, was in awe of the Philly MC. These are just two examples of how deep Thought’s respect runs in the game. Thought is “your favorite rappers, favorite rapper.” Without question, Thought is universally respected in the game.
His Hot 97 Freestyle
When Black Thought came through the Ciroc Studios, on December 14th 2017, to be interviewed by Funk Flex, it was expected that he would drop a freestyle. It’s customary to drop a hot 16 bars. But no one was prepared for what was about to take place. Black Thought commenced to delivering the greatest freestyle of all time. It was political, luxurious, gangsta, and straight Philly! I mean, Ockee didn’t mess up once. There was no stumbling or voice cracking. He did it all with perfect breath control. Thought is lyrically fit. It was effortless, a tour de force in the art of MCing. For over 10 minutes, spitting over Mobb Deep’s “Burn,” Thought proved that he is of the greatest to ever do it. Even those who were not as familiar with his avant-garde stylings for the past 25 years had to acknowledge his greatness.