Black Thought is the Best Emcee Alive, Period

Black Thought connected three strangers on Connecticut Avenue at 12:30 in the morning. That's power.
Publish date:
Social count:
Black Thought connected three strangers on Connecticut Avenue at 12:30 in the morning. That's power.

For the past five months I've been grumpy and cold. That's all. Well, high sometimes too, but mainly grumpy and cold. 

Every time I step outside I think, "Why the fuck do I live where it snows?"

Every time I have to scrape ice off my windshield I think, "That's it. I'm moving to Costa Rica before next winter."

As I don layer after layer, I think about Nathan (and every other West Coaster) lounging on the beach drinking margaritas with fancy umbrellas and I want to murder his face because anytime I mention winter he reminds me that in Cali such a thing doesn't exist. (50 degrees is not cold!)

Fuck winter. Fuck it long and fuck it hard. Fuck it. Even if it's celibate...

Still, what Nathan can't experience, what he can't appreciate, is when the weather shifts from pants-shittingly cold to pants-shittingly beautiful. Sure, my allergies eviscerate me in the spring, but it's a small price to pay for stepping outside braced for the cold and feeling nothing but sunshine and a whispering breeze softer than Jhene Aiko's sweetest nothing. More than the weather, more than the sundresses, even more than the day drinking, these first few days of warm weather are all about music. There is nothing more gratifying than blasting a great song with the windows down for the world to hear. "Baby Blue" sounds that much sweeter when the mom in the Suburban two lanes over has to roll up her windows. After months of being held captive by mother nature, finally I was free! He may have In-N-Out burger, but Nathan will never know that feeling.

Advantage east coast. 

Monday night was the most beautiful night of the past few months. Although Duke, the bane of everybody's existence, had just won the NCAA tourney, it didn't stop me from feeling on top of the world. As I drove up Connecticut Avenue, windows down, wind in my hair (that totally needs to be cut), I was bumping "What They Do" by the legendary Roots crew. Maybe it was the soothing guitar, maybe it was those crisp drums echoing through the serene D.C. streets, maybe it was a little bit of a residual high, but I was in the perfect mood. The Roots will do that to you. 

I'm used to weird stares and chuckles when I listen to music because I don't just listen, I rap along and I move my body in ways no one in public should. I conduct a god damn symphony from behind the wheel. Still, for nearly eight blocks I couldn't shake the feeling of being watched by the car next to me. Turns out, I was right.  

"My style fortified by all of Philadelphi..."
"Excuse me."
"My delph more stealth than all the wick."
Excuse me!"

I look over, half expecting a camera to be on me and someone yelling 'WORLDSTAR!" I already saw the headline, "Goofy white kid going HAM." There was no camera, but their windows were rolled down and a guy and girl were looking over at me smiling. 

"What's that you're listening to?"
"'What They Do' by The Roots."
"Ohhh. ok."
"You want it?" I asked.
"The CD. You want it?"
"Sure! Oh. fuck. The light's green!"

That didn't stop her from hopping out of the car and grabbing the CD through my window.

"Thank you."
"My pleasure. Enjoy!" 

And just like that we were off...

I didn't even think twice. I can burn another Roots CD no problem; I still had the playlist saved. The few cents for a blank CD was a small price to pay to get that couple obsessing the J-Period "Don't Say Nuthin" remix I included. I love sharing music more than anything in the world. I still remember the feeling I got when I would hop on DJBooth and find my new favorite song. I still remember the feeling I had when I first heard the Roots and asked, "Yo. Who is that?" with more urgency than I have ever asked about anything before. Knowing I have the ability to do that on a daily basis is the best job perk. Knowing I did that for those people gives me just as much joy as actually listening to a Roots song.

Just last week in our Rapper March Madness bracket, Black Thought lost to Kendrick Lamar. I begged, pleaded, and fought for Black Thought like my ears depended on it, but I came up short and I took it personally. I tried to explain to Nathan and Yoh they were making the biggest mistake of their lives, that Black Thought losing was a slight against God. I tried to get them to reconsider but I was crushed and angry at the same time so all that came out was a very eloquent "ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME!!!" It was like a terrible accident. I saw it happening before my eyes, almost in slow motion, but I was paralyzed - I couldn't do anything to stop it. I didn't have the composure to explain how undeniable Black Thought is. How pure. How technical. I could hand those people a CD with all the proof I need, but I can't do that over the internet...except in a way I can.

For me, it's the hard, aggressive shit where Black Thought's the most prolific. It's undeniable and it's exhausting. I mean exhausting in the best way possible. He says so much with such unflinching speed and force it is literally tiring to the untrained listener. When you watch a truly special running back like Adrian Peterson or Jamaal Charles, what sets them apart is that whole other gear that the rest don't have. Like right here, just when you think he's going to run out of bounds Charles ducks his head and turns it up a notch, leaving defenders in his dust. Those kind of runs are my favorite plays in football because its so remarkable to see someone reach that next level just when you think they are done. It's the ultimate display of talent and sheer athleticism. The perfect hybrid between power and speed; between technique and primal aggression. They will themselves to a level of dominance that nobody else has on the field. They are simply better, stronger and faster and can prove it whenever they need to. Black Thought is the rap embodiment of those runs. He never fucking stops and just when you think he is going to, because you need a fucking break, he takes it one step further. He avalanches through beats picking up mass and speed as he tumbles and your mind is the cabin at the bottom of the summit. Take "Birds Eye View," arguably the best verse of the last few years.

I've listened a million times and I still can't keep up. I feel like a Saints defensive back. I'm giving him my all, I'm doing everything in my power to keep stride and catch every quotable line, but I can't do it. I'm always a line or two behind because he's so powerful. I listen to almost every other rapper to rap every line along with 'em. But I turn on Black Thought to get lost. Other rappers have it in spades - special songs, special specific verses - but Black Thought does it more often and just flat out better than any other emcee. I love the dizzying exhaustion he leaves me with. It's humbling. It lets me know that no matter how many Genius searches I do, hip-hop is still a force greater than I am. It's like being out in the middle of the ocean. It takes getting run off the track by Black Thought to let me know hip-hop is a force that is greater and more powerful than I will ever be. Black Thought is hip-hop; a living, breathing, rapping embodiment of that force. 

But "What They Do" is not one of those songs. It's Black Thought's more contemplative, softer side that that shines through. And yet, still, there is this undeniable attraction. I've never had a complete stranger stop me at a traffic light and ask" "Yo. What's that song" and I've never had the urge to hand a stranger one of my CDs. I've had parking lot moments where someone vibes out with me to "Collard Greens" or some Kanye, but it's never been on a level like it was Monday. More than a verse, more than bar, Black Thought connected three strangers on Connecticut Avenue at 12:30 in the morning. That's power. That's Black Thought.

Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth. Illustration by PERIL.