Black Thought – Streams of Thought, Vol. 1. review

Secret Meeting score: 74

by Phil Scarisbrick

With all their Tonight Show tom-foolery, it is sometimes easy to forget that The Roots are one of the most important groups in hip-hop, having forged an extraordinary back-catalogue over the last three decades. While drummer, producer and ‘fro comb enthusiast, Questlove, is often seen as the band leader, it is frontman Black Thought who is the group’s voice. Last week he released his long-awaited debut solo EP: Streams of Thought, Vol. 1.

Produced by 9th Wonder (Jay-z, De La Soul, Talib Kweli), the beats provide an exciting backdrop for Thought’s frenetic, hookless rhymes. Twofifteen blasts into life with its chipmunk-effect vocal and snare heavy beat. The title refers to the area code of the Philadelphia native’s hometown- a source of inspiration he often taps into. Here he addresses issues facing ‘Philly’ both in the past and present, making references to rampant gang murders, the Klu Klux Klan, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Ntozake Shange and Donald Trump. He draws parallels between the Jim Crow segregation of the sixties and the danger of it reappearing today with lines like – ‘Who said it’s cynical? I was a king and general/Rich in every resource, precious metal and mineral/Before the devil entered the land of the plentiful’. This machine-gun fire delivery sets the tone for the lyrical onslaught which this EP unloads over its five tracks.

9th vs. Thought is a master class in braggadocios hip-hop, and Thought is in explosive form as he unloads his achievements and self-confidence to devastating effect. During the first interlude, he makes reference to anthropology (the study of humans), stating that it takes two elements to make it work: ‘the student and the studied’. Here the two elements are clearly 9th Wonder’s beats and Black Thought’s words, but who is studying who? Inspired by Toni Morrison’s public lecture series that she made in May 1975 at the Portland State University for the Black Studies Department, Thought concludes that, ‘Accurate scholarship and free, dedicated artists would reveal a singularly important thing/Racism was and is not only a mark of ignorance/It was and is a monumental fraud’, asserting that racism has always been used as a cynical means for profit.

Dostoyevsky sees a collaboration with Rhapsody, whom both Thought and 9th Wonder have worked with before. And the self-confidence of the previous track is amped up to eleven, as the two MCs exchange verses. ‘I’m celebrating gracefully, getting better with time/I ain’t even halfway through this incredible ride/But like, I’m kind of doing an incredible job’, Thought spits, with a virtuosity that qualifies this arrogance. Making A Murderer, a play on the title of the popular Netflix documentary, sees Thought and guest Styles P propose murder. Their target though is not any person, but the idea of mediocrity.

Final track – Thank You – sees Thought in a more contemplative mood, as he reflects on his on his achievements and those that helped him with them. After four tracks of self-backpatting, it is a welcome moment of clarity to conclude this superb EP. Thought’s rhyming master-classes aren’t simply displays of his hunger for greatness, but also acts of gratitude to those that have aided him. Despite the potential for their Tonight Show presence to be an act of ‘selling out’, The Roots have continued to remain relevant in a fickle industry, not least because of Tariq Trotter’s work ethic and incredible wordsmithery. With this EP, he has been able to display these in his own right. If this is only ‘Vol. 1’ , I cannot wait to see where he goes from here.

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