Black Thought The Roots

I remember reading an issue of Rolling Stone (which has now successfully killed what little credibility it had left by putting that 12 year old Zack kid on the cover last month) review awhile ago on the Roots, and sadly the article contained very little research, piss poor understanding of Hip Hop, and glaring misconceptions.

It wasn't that Rolling Stone got it dead wrong when it comes to their coverage of an important Hip Hop group that shocked me (they've successfully proven time and time again since the culture's conception that they don't know how to properly reflect Hip Hop's increasingly important mass cultural voice), it was the constant brutality towards Black Thought in the article that surprised me. Like I said, I don't expect to read reliable Hip Hop coverage in that particular publication, but I do expect those who are paid to write about music professionally to give respect to those artists that deserve nothing less.

What really struck me as odd though, when I looked into it further, is that the sentiment that Thought is not a top-tier MC isn't exclusive to the fading magazine… shockingly, it seems it's a thought that's shared by several throughout the music world.

What makes the claim so outlandish is that Thought's body of work should speak for itself without being questioned. The Roots have been around for more than a decade, and arguably, there's not an MC that's had to evolve throughout their career more than Thought.

From the group's debut, Organix, through their major breakthrough, the jazzified Do You Want More?!!!??!, his role was that of a jazz frontman, and he be-bopped and skip-skopped perfectly through the disc, not always delivering the most complex lyrics, but doing what was expected of him in complimenting the beat. A perfect example is the Roots essential "Essaywhuman?!!!??!” where you can hear Thought call and repeat with the instruments to fantastic effect. That was his role in the group at the time (1995). He never tried to overpower the group concept to shine solo, and in doing so, the overall effort of the album (introducing a new sound and concept to the scene), was never detracted from. It's that very same group concept that still makes the Roots so enticing, and Thought should be credited for being so selfless early on, so that the band as a whole became more recognized instead of just the MC himself.

With the following year's sophomore effort, Illadelph Halflife, the band's music distanced itself from its light, jazzy beginnings and the melodies turned darker and more complex. Thought again made his effort group focused, and his lyrics fit the music perfectly. Thought's successful effort to fit the group's new sound are best on display on tracks like the D'Angelo assisted "The Hypnotic,” a tale of a love found and lost and the obsession that goes with it.

Things Fall Apart was an ironic title for the group's 1999 effort as it really was the album where they put it all together, in their most ambitious and creative project ever at the time. Thought really showed his immense talent on the disc, kicking it old school on "Dynamite!” going back and forth with Ms. Erykah Badu on the Grammy award winning "You Got Me,” and holding more than his own against an absolutely incendiary Mos Def on "Double Trouble” (that Tahitian Treat line makes me smile every time). But the real lyrical gem is the open letter to the culture on "Act Too… The Love of My Life.”

Fast forward to 2002, when the Roots released the rock-tinged Phrenology. Thought comes out raw on the opener "Rock You,” and doesn't stop going hard at his until after the hidden track. "Thought @ Work,” is a monstrous standout, showcasing Tariq as a man possessed over a spiraling, spine-shattering beat (just listen to him straight kill it when everything but the drums drop out). "Water,” also burns with sharp lyrical swords, each heartfelt, passionate line aimed squarely at his lost comrade, Malik B.

Even after Phrenology though, some people still doubted Thought's lyrical contributions, which prompted a ?uestlove allusion to the debate in the liner notes to 2004's The Tipping Point. Thought single handedly saved a lot of the album by making sure his lyrics made up for the rare situation that the music was more bland than on the previous albums. If there is a record that belongs more to Thought than any in the Roots discography, it's undoubtedly The Tipping Point. "Web,” is a throwback drum, bass and vocals Hip Hop track, with Thought going absolutely bonkers on the mic. "Boom!” showed off BT's extraordinary impersonation abilities, with him doing uncanny verses as Big Daddy Kane and Kool G Rap. "Why” also showed that Thought never lost his political side, containing cyanide lines like "Some people pray to Coca-Cola now instead of to God.”

Thought continued with the concerned emotions he left off with on "Why,” for the duration of the group's most political effort, Game Theory. "False Media,” and "Don't Feel Right,” are both fantastic looks at the social paradigms of today. As if that weren't enough, Thought's flow is spectacularly breathtaking on "Here I Come” a track that's the auditory equivelant of riding the bomb train headed to Parliament in V for Vendetta, and he's compellingly reflective on "Long Time” and melancholic on "Atonement.”

Just reading through his contributions to the group's discography should be enough to silence those who continue to hate on him, but his appeal doesn't end at his consistency and his ability to evolve, he's all that's listed above and more. Besides the fact that he has changed his style and sound on every album to match the band (a task that would easily wreck an amateur, one-dimensional MC), those who have seen the Roots in concert know how fabulous he is as an entertainer. A professionally trained singer, he is absolutely vital to The Roots' highly touted live show. His aforementioned impersonations range from a variety of legendary MC's to the Godfather of Soul himself. He consistently nails his verses, even the extremely technical ones. Unlike a lot of MC's I've seen in concert, I've never seen him miss a word. He has the ice cold water in his veins and his cadence and rhythm are just as good, if not better in concert than on wax. He can switch instantly from slick-talking, jazz improviser, to ruthless, avant-garde lyricist at the tap of a high hat.

With all of that having been said, his talent accounted for and his life long work put in perspective, he (and really the whole band) is tremendously reputable for his continuous output. The Roots are always touring, and yet they still find time to be working on their 10th album. Try performing every lyric full volume to an hours worth of Root's songs into your mirror for just one night, and see if your voice isn't gone the next day, and that's minus the screaming fans and the bombastic ensemble of instruments behind you. Most people would even feel winded even after an ill-advised rendition of "The Seed (2.0)” at a Karaoke bar. The man is a giant in political and rhythmic lyricism and should be respected as such. Give him his props, or "Don't Say Nuthin."

Listen to The Roots - "The Seed/Melting Pot/Web (Live On BBC Radio One's Worldwide Show)" from Home Grown! The Beginner's Guide to Understanding the Roots, Vol. 2.

For more of The Roots discography, you already know what url should come next...

2007 Black Weblog Awards

VOTE TSS for the Best Hip-Hop Blog and Best Music Blog. Voting ends August 31; winners are announced on September 5.