The Philadelphia born rapper walks into an industry asking ‘what the heck is going on in here?’ The Roots frontman is epic on a worth the wait album that both sticks to its guns and revitalises the idea of rhyme with intellectual precision.
Very few will question the sentiment that Black Thought (Born Tariq Luqmaan Trotter) could be the greatest MC of all time. Without doubt, he was in the room all along when considering the likes of Big L, Nas and Kweli, but Black Thought strums a guitar of his own. His rhymes, delivered as natural as they come, decimate most rappers, even when considering his weakest work. If such a thing exists at all.
We’ve all heard his canvas alongside Hip-Hop hall of famers ‘The Roots‘, and this set the tone for what to expect from a man who will be free of group decisions, able to conduct an orchestra of his own. His solo work was mooted for years, as far back as 1999/2000, though nothing materialised. Instead, we were teased on Big Pun’s super lyrical ‘Super Lyrical‘ to Pharoahe Monch‘s ‘Rapid Eye Movement‘ and the occasional freestyle.
But within the last 4 years, Thought has put pen to paper, releasing a bout of EPs and singles that left fans and the uninitiated asking for more. Fast forward two years, and ‘Streams of Thought Vol.3: Cane & Able‘ was nearing the horizon.
The album opens on a slow note with “I’m not crazy (First Contact)‘ where Thought’s vocals are slowed to a pitch that reference Columbus’ first steps into America and his interaction with Native Americans who met him. “It’s almost like this is when the virus got here”. A loaded introduction, it tenderises for easy consumption how past mentalities were transmitted to modern America and left unchanged. This is the pace the album sets and it never slows down.
Thought explained to Variety Magazine his motivations behind the album: “It might sound ambitious to want to create a timeless classic, but that is always in my muscle memory, a challenge I rise to with different producers every time out”
When asked about the Black Lives Matter movement and if it has changed the way he writes, he responded: “I think the Black Lives Movement, and what it has come to mean to people, only better prepares the world to receive what I’m saying. Now more than ever, music, art and energy that reflects the mission statement of that movement will be better received. I’ve always made the same sociopolitical commentary. Now, there is a different urgency, which is a very good thing”
We were first given a slice of ‘Streams of Thought Vol.3‘ when The Roots frontman released ‘Thought vs Everybody‘, a politically charged song that sticks to the principles of The Roots’ musical signature whilst still pushing boundaries. A feat difficult for most rappers to achieve without dipping their feet into autotune or a terrible end. “Everything’s obtuse, nothin’ is obscene/Another young life was lost on live stream/Another great fell from grace in high esteem” referencing the killings of black people by US police, Thought goes after everyone and everything with a verse lasting three minutes, a length some artists fail to maintain for an entire song. Trotter demonstrates to new audiences a skill he oozes by just opening his mouth.
“The punishment I’ma hit ’em with is draconian
It’s in me (Magnif-Magnificent), muscle memory is Pavlovian
The magnificent with a tinted skin tone
Ain’t nobody f****n’ with me, keep ’em in the friend zone”
Black Thought on ‘Magnificent’
The searing energy of ‘Good Morning‘ stretches arms allowing Swizz Beats, Pusha T and Killer Mike to intervene. Pusha steps in with a good effort: “I only do features to keep hittin’ my mark/ And show you m********kers you ain’t as good as you thought (I am)”. The track, released last month, lets other rappers know that to be on a Black Thought album requires a step up in skill and to be of a particular calibre. Being able to collaborate with the bearded MC is like winning a grammy of your own.
‘Quiet Trip‘ turns the heat up even more, where Thought’s demonstration of rhyme deepens, rolling metaphor after metaphor alongside a sharpening of steel that gravitates towards a display of mastery untamed. ‘Nature of the Beast‘ sees Trotter change hands to compose himself into an affable singing style, helping slow the pace of an otherwise self-assured artist. The confidence of his modus operandi shines throughout, and as we see here, his songwriter capabilities rock well for whichever flair Trotter chooses.
On a personal track ‘We Could Be Good‘ he journeys into the trials of relationships, clipping and fencing with rhyme and reasoning with himself. He later delves into a more personal catchment on ‘Fuel‘ alongside Portugal and The Last Artful, Dodgr, giving little away and more to ponder.
Streams of Thought Vol.3: Cane And Abel falls short of nothing, and any expectations this album set having been delayed since July was granted. Black Thought entered the courtyard and deemed it unfit for purpose and as we’ve seen, again and again, Thought raised the bar from Vol.1 to date. Vol.3 offers something for all, from the more upbeat ‘Good Morning‘ and ‘Quiet Trip‘ to slow journeys on ‘Magnificient‘ where he delivers a parcel masterclass of rhyming and flow that comes naturally. Combined with a pot Thought stirred himself, this album sits mountains above other Hip-Hop usuals to prove there is still a craft to the game. A masterclass in rhyming and flow, Black Thought demonstrates highly adventurous skill alongside a well curated production.
Black Thought: ‘Streams of Thought Vol.3: Cane & Able complete tracklist:
1. ‘I’m Not Crazy (First Contact)’
2. ‘State Prisoner’
3. ‘Good Morning’ Ft. Swizz Beats, Pusha T and Killer Mike
5. ‘Experience’ (Interlude)
6. ‘Quiet Trip’ Ft. Portugal The Man And The Last Artful, Dodgr
7. ‘Nature Of The Beast’ Ft. Portugal The Man And The Last Artful, Dodgr
8. ‘We Should Be Good’ Ft. CS Armstrong
9. ‘Steak Um’ Ft. ScHoolboy Q
10. ‘Thought Vs. Everybody’
11. ‘Ghetto Boyz & Girls’ Ft. CS Armstrong
12. ‘Fuel’ Ft. Portugal The Man And The Last Artful, Dodgr
13. ‘I’m Not Crazy’ (Outro)