UpNorthTrips Presents The 10s | Thought At Work: 10 Black Thought Bangers
When the discussion of underrated emcees comes up, Black Thought ‘s name is frequently mentioned. And we here at UpNorthTrips take that as an insult. It’s 2012, and the Philly-bred front man for The Roots has been slaying every mic in his path for two decades now – in concerts across the world, and on over a dozen LPs, without taking a breather. He’s even managed to stay relevant with rap purists while holding down a gig on Jimmy Fallon’s late night NBC talk show. Tariq Trotter is a one-of-one in this rap shit. There is no other artist with his stage presence, stamina, versatility, and straight up skills to pay the bills. He’s the quintessential master of ceremonies.
To celebrate his 42nd birthday, we give you a special edition of The 10s entitled “Thought At Work,” because dude stays on his job, and doesn’t ever let up, having held his own on tracks with everyone from Big Pun to Ghostface Killah to Mos Def, in addition to his countless classics with The Roots. Read about our selections below, listen to the mix, and next time you want to talk underrated MCs, please leave his name out. Black Thought only belongs in the Top 5 Dead Or Alive discussion moving forward.
1. The Roots – “Silent Treatment (Black Thought’s 87 You & Yours Mix)”
Album: “Silent Treatment” 12-Inch Single
Breakdown: Black Thought provides the beat for this remix of The Roots’ butter rap ballad, giving it a gutter tinge with hard drums and a banging bass line. It’s much darker than the album version, and he flips all new lyrics, while still talking about his Queen Amina and referencing lines from the original.
UNT Quotable: “We could relax listen to tracks and puff chronic/ But only on a level that’s platonic.”
2. Ghostface Killah ft. Black Thought – “In tha Park”
Album: Apollo Kids
Breakdown: Tariq takes us back to Philly’s Golden Era on this ode to the old school with Ghostface, shouting out Schoolly D, Tuff Crew, and other early rap greats from his hometown. Ghost is great on this too, but we bet even he would concede defeat if asked who came off iller here. In the end though, the debate is not even worth having. Grown man rap fans rejoice in the fact that it’s Tony Starks and Black Thought on the same song. This is legendary shit.
UNT Quotable: “Old Memorex cassette tape collections/Bright spotlights at all the fights at the Spectrum.”
3. The Roots ft. Mos Def – “Double Trouble”
Album: Things Fall Apart
Breakdown: Mos had yet to drop his debut album, but his Black Star project with Talib Kweli was out, and the underground rap scene already knew he was a born legend. So his placement on this song with Black Thought made plenty of sense, and they play off each other like they’ve been rhyming together for years, paying homage to the old school while still flexing innovative styles and lyrics. This is that futuristic b-boy shit.
UNT Quotable: “One for the hustle, two to rock rhyme/From the muscle kid I’m one of the illest of all time.”
4. The Roots – “Proceed V” (Da Beatminerz Remix)
Album: “Proceed II” 12-Inch Single
Breakdown: “Proceed” had a bunch of remixes. Roy Ayers added on for one. They smoothed it out and let Bahamadia jump on another. But this Beatminerz version was the hardest hitting of them all. Beatminerz bring their Brooklyn aesthetic to Philly, which meshes well with Black Thought’s core grittiness. The drums knock, and the high-pitched keyboard drives the track forward, so both Tariq and Malik can proceed and do what they do best – rock the mic.
UNT Quotable: “The mic’s my only apparatus, and with it I got rappers paranoid.”
5. The Roots ft. Bahamadia – “Push Up Ya Lighter”
Album: Illadelph Halflife
Breakdown: Black Thought gets descriptive on this song, as he moves through Philly, constructing rhymes on the train, pollying with his man about getting their currency up, and strolling through the hood to cop trees. He paints quite a picture, and gives us a sense of what his reality in Philly is all about. Bahamadia and Malik B shine brightly on this smokey cut, too.
UNT Quotable: “I’m livin’ life within a labyrinth of nonsense/This is the consequence of being Philly residents.”
6. Big Punisher ft. Black Thought – “Super Lyrical”
Album: Capital Punishment
Breakdown: Legend has it that Big Pun would invite rappers he respected most to hop on tracks with him so he could attempt to out-rap them. Not the easiest thing to do when the guest emcee is Black Thought, but Pun went for it. Black Thought probably caught wind of what was going on, and decided to lean back on the track a bit, complementing Pun’s rapid fire with a cooler, more relaxed angle. Well played, and the skills are still well-displayed.
UNT Quotable: “Electrifying shit his excellency Thought spit.”
7. The Roots – “Thought At Work” (Original Version)
Album: “Thought At Work” 12-Inch Single
Breakdown: The Roots had to lose The Beatles’ “Hey Bulldog” sample for the album, but it doesn’t come off as slick as the original. Black Thought is masterful on this cut, from the perfect verses to his singing on the hook. This may be his best solo effort ever, which is why we named the mix after it.
UNT Quotable: “Ill insanity that’s cold and morbid/But when I’m in your orbit your soul absorb it.”
8. Black Thought – “Tony Touch Freestyle”
Album: Tony Touch #55 Power Cypha 2
Breakdown: Tony Toca’s second gathering of 50 emcees was stacked with amazing talent, and Black Thought blessed the cypher with an onslaught of effortless bars that proved he was not to be tested, outshining the best of the best. This is the definition of mic control.
UNT Quotable: “I backslap an emcee senseless.”
9. The Roots – “Table Of Contents (Part 3)”
Album: The Legendary (EP)
Breakdown: This bouncy banger went overlooked mostly because of its placement on an EP, but it shows off Black Thought’s uncanny ability rip apart any beat. His staccato style flow on this is incredible as he finds the perfect pocket, pogo-sticking along to the sound of the snare with fiery finesse. Respect this.
UNT Quotable: “Spit fire, fly third eye talk, to leave your mind struck.”
10. The Roots – “75 Bars (Black’s Reconstruction)”
Album: Rising Down
Breakdown: There’s a video of Mos Def where he spits this whole rap for Black Thought. Real respect real, and if Mos Def knows your shit for word for word, you are doing something right. Black Thought blacks out on this, rapping as if there’s no end in sight. And that’s quite alright, because we would prefer that this song go on forever.
UNT Quotable: “Y’all still a light year from the level I’m on.”