Black Thought is very much a figurehead within the older hip-hop community. With his career origins in the mid-1990s, Black Thought’s primary attraction is his lyrical ability and extremely conscious lyrics alongside a very soulful and jazz-inspired type of sonic. The rapper is also a known poet, infusing his work with a literary poise.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, the rapper (real name Tariq Trotter) was born to parents who were both part of the Black-Islamic religious movement, The Nation Of Islam. As a result, his music is extraordinarily Afro-centric and politically controversial.
Trotter did not acquire fame through mixtapes but put out a series of albums independently that did very well in the underground scenes of Philadelphia and New York, operating in the same space as artists such as Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Common. Behind the commercial Gangsta and Mafioso rap movements in the ’90s was a more underground, conscious and soul-based form of hip-hop.
The exceptional artist is most known for his work as part of The Roots, a hip-hop collective and band formed in the late 1980s by Trotter and his friend Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson. Operating out of Philadelphia the collective began recruiting rappers and instrumentalists to create sample-free, original, jazz-inspired rap. Scott Storch was part of the group as the keyboard player, and so was the bassist Ben Kenney.
Although the Philadelphia act was partially active in the 2000s, he laid low throughout much of the 2010s, but in 2017, Trotter made an appearance on HOT 97.0 to perform a freestyle on Funk Flex’s radio show and floored listeners with his outstanding lyricism, flawless delivery and precise timing. He reminded rap fans why he is one of the best MCs in the world.
However, Trotter drew inspiration from many artists and in an interview with Pitchfork revealed what he believes to be the greatest rap song of all time. Speaking with the publication, Trotter unveiled that his favourite track of all time was Kool G Rap and DJ Polo’s ‘Men at Work’.
Expounding on his choice, Trotter elaborated, “I don’t have a favorite song, but there are songs where, had it not been for what I got from them, I wouldn’t be where I am. One of those is ‘Men at Work’ by Kool G Rap. I paid homage to it in the Roots discography, in a song called ‘Thought @ Work,’ which is inspired by this song’s cadence. I know all the words to this record; Kool G Rap wrote it when he was around 17—at this point, he probably doesn’t know all the words.”