Getty Image/Ralph Ordaz Tariq Trotter — aka Black Thought — is the best rapper alive. He may not be your...
Tariq Trotter — aka Black Thought — is the best rapper alive.
He may not be your favorite of all time. He may not be the best-selling rapper ever. But bar-for-bar, there isn’t a single MC in the rap business who can out-rap The Roots’ frontman. Today, he once again proves as much with his much-anticipated latest “solo” release, the Danger Mouse-produced Cheat Codes. Okay, so, it’s technically a group release, but Thought does all the rhyming, aside from a handful of features that include veterans like Raekwon, Run The Jewels, and MF DOOM, as well as a few younger spitters such ASAP Rocky, Joey Badass, and Russ.
After listening to Cheat Codes, if you still don’t believe me, I’ve got nine more examples of times that Thought proved he was the best rapper alive below.
Truthfully… We could end this list here. Mic drop. Done. From the opening bars (“I’m sorry for your loss / It’s a body dead in the car and it’s prob’ly one of yours”), Thought puts on a master class in breath control, cadence, delivery, and literary references in rhyme that has yet to be matched. No lie, I revisit this at least once a month. It’s a cure for writer’s block or really any sense of malaise over modern times. By the tenth(!) consecutive minute, you’ll be ready to run through a wall.
As much praise is heaped onto the guy who closes out the third cypher of the 2009 BET Hip-Hop Awards, I will contend that those shock-rap bars don’t come anywhere near the knowledge darts that Tariq flings throughout his verse. When he says, “Y’all see him on a job, see my eyes focused where the prize be / I’m like Martin Luther King, you like Rodney,” the impact can be felt as much as heard.
Long before “real hip-hop heads” were complaining non-stop about “mumble rap,” Black Thought and his band turned an unfinished reference track into a certified hit. The first single from The Tipping Point, “Don’t Say Nuthin’,” sees Thought mumble his way through a nonsense hook, putting the emphasis on his verses, where it belongs.
“Thought Vs. Everybody,” which appears on the Sean C-produced third volume of Tariq’s Streams Of Thought solo mixtape series, finds the Philly rapper waxing philosophical and wondering at the state of the world with his typical blend of well-worn wisdom and scholarly observation. “I hear police discussin’ whether to try and kill us all,” he muses. “I questioned if that’d matter, life is like a tree that falls / In the woods, even with iPhone footage to see it fall.”
“@ 15,” from The Roots’ Rising Down, can hardly be considered a song or even much of an interlude. Consisting of a scratchy recording of a young Tariq freestyling back before you could just capture such moments on a cell phone, the snippet gives us a glimpse of a Black Thought who was still raw, not fully formed… and still rapping rings around grown rappers who’d appear 30 years later.
Say what you want to about the host of The Tonight Show. His golden retriever energy is always matched by The Roots, who’ve been pulling double duty as the show’s house band since 2014. Whatever silly variety gag Jimmy comes up with — many of them utilizing Thought’s supreme freestyle talent, prompting him to make up songs on the spot about a variety of topics — Tariq is always down for the cause, showing fans a more carefree side of the seemingly super serious super MC.
Rather than facing the impossible task of trying to curate specific moments from across the Streams Of Thought run, I’ll recommend you check out his Tiny Desk (At Home) Concert, which does the hard part for us. A fun game to play is to scan Thought’s desk, which contains a wealth of references to his incredible 30+ year career, as well as some truly impressive reading material.
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