When it comes to hip-hop, few have maintained such a high level of quality in their work as Black Thought. The Roots’ front man is the epitome of an MC. He has a voice that’s built for rhyming as it booms on any track. His punchlines and metaphors are potent at all times, delivered with trademark authority. On top of it all, Thought has constantly worked with sounds that expand the instrumentation that exists in hip-hop thanks to the work of his band mates.
Over the past few years he has done guest verses that have his peers giving him praise, as well as fans longing for an album from him with similar sounds to his features. Whether or not Thought follows through on the fans’ desires, his recent features have shown why he’s one of the greatest MCs alive. Here are some of the best examples:
Statik Selektah, Action Bronson, Royce Da 5’9, & Black Thought – “The Imperial”
This track shows how the technology used to make certain collaborations can work against rappers. When everyone contributing to a song is in the studio together, the rappers can judge if they held their own against their peers on the song before the public ever hears it. It’s doubtful that Royce and Bronson had this experience while making “The Imperial” given how much longer Thought’s verse is compared to their verses.
On this track from Statik Selektah’s What Goes Around, Action Bronson delivers the witty one-liners that he’s known for while Royce brings impressive wordplay and shifts in his flow. Yet Black Thought dominates the song with rhymes like, “Some rappers are just starting out, but me? I’m more accomplished/The imperial Black Thought from the foreign objects/I created a movement not just related to music/They keep asking me what’s my take on the state of the union/All these haters is human, but I’m a different breed/They be crazy cartoonish, but I’m in a different league.” He even lays claim to his place among hip-hop’s 5 best MCs of all-time.
Freddie Gibbs & Black Thought – “Extradite”
Thought’s feature on Freddie Gibbs’ latest album, Shadow of a Doubt, proves to be a standout song – both for the project and hip-hop this year in general. Over a beat that samples the same Bob James song that has brought us classics such as “Beats to the Rhyme” and “Live at the Barbeque,” Gibbs and Thought trade verses that tackle street life and America’s justice system. Black Thought says, “If my city is like yours/the serial’s scratched, finger prints is wiped off/And people seem to always have something to fight for, /but always end up in the state pen or the psych ward, it’s lights off/They catch so many casualties, it’s like war/That’s the reason I don’t believe in the hype, y’all.”
Statik Selektah, Raekwon, Joey Bada$$, & Black Thought – “Bird’s Eye View”
Black Thought first displayed his chemistry with Statik Selektah on “Bird’s Eye View.” His verse starts with a barrage of metaphors that are some of the best you’ll hear in hip-hop. From there, Thought never loses steam. He says, “It’s the elephant in the room/created by a collision of the Sun and the Moon/My sonogram is an image of a gun in the womb/that was soon to be doper than heron [heroin] in the spoon.” Lines like these help to make the art of rhyming a craft like no other.
Skyzoo, Black Thought, & Bilal – “Money Makes Us Happy”
Although some of the previous features have been tests of technique between Thought and his fellow MCs, the recent collaboration from Black Thought and Skyzoo is more of a concept song; fans that hear it focus less on who had the better verse and more on how both artists discuss the role of materialism in people’s lives. On the song, Thought offers a glimpse into his life as he says, “In the pursuit of paper, it was then I wasn’t there with you/To do it over I’da taken better care of you/It costs money for the birth, more for the burial/Purposely, I’m saving up to purchase us a miracle.”
Pharoahe Monch & Black Thought – “Rapid Eye Movement”
When impressive rhymes and interesting content come together, greatness tends to be the outcome. This is the case with Black Thought’s feature on Pharoahe Monch’s PTSD album – an album that creatively presents how post traumatic stress disorder affects people. Thought manages to assume the album’s theme without sacrificing the strength of his bars. He says, “I bear arms like button-downs without the sleeves/manic depressive and possessive like apostrophes/my psychiatrist waved the doctor fees/when I waved the pistol and said, ‘Quit watching me so I can breathe.’” The scene portrayed here is far from pleasant, but it’s vivid and conveys the behavior that can be brought about by PTSD.