Waddup! This is Tariq Trotter, also known as Black Thought of the Legendary Roots Crew. The good folks here at DJBooth have invited me to bring you “Game Theory,” a series of monthly editorials, along with a few video segments pairing me up with some rising, young emcees. Word.
Roots fans might remember Game Theory as the title of our seventh studio album, released back in 2006. If you do the math on the albums, I’ve been around for a long time. And if you’re reading this editorial, that says I’ve accomplished some things in that time, and remained relevant.
In fact, that might be the premise of the “game theory” right there: how to be around for a long time and accomplish some things while remaining relevant.
A lot of y’all probably know the basics of The Roots’ history by now. Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and I met as teenagers at Creative and Performing Arts High School back in South Philly in the late ‘80s. He studied music in school while I, believe it or not, started out in the visual arts lane, always fascinated with lines, shapes, colors, abstracts, the aesthetic.
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But I was also a natural emcee, rhyming effortlessly since my elementary school days with Beanie Sigel, having no real clue about who I’d later become. We were just talented kids trying to escape the harshness of urban life, bonding over our mutual love for hip-hop. We were also knuckleheads. Basically, I had no game.
I’d be lying if I said I knew early on that I would win GRAMMY awards, sign a multi-year contract with Jimmy Fallon and NBC, or wind up in a lot of your Top 5 Dead or Alive lists. It would also be a stretch to say that the "game" part of sticking around in this business came second nature to me. I was blessed to have a visionary manager, the late Richard Nichols, who was a guiding force most of my career until his untimely passing last year. Now he had game.
So game is the kind of thing I developed over time, the product of being called "underrated" for years, touring the world while simultaneously being separated from my loved ones for much of the time, realizing that I don’t buy into media hype or care much about frivolous shit, and recognizing that while the platforms might change, the industry rules pretty much stay the same. (Google Record Industry Rule #4080. LOL.)
So what is game? And what’s my theory behind how to win? During this series, I’ll share some of what I believe to be true – about lyricism, collaboration, diversifying, giving back and staying agile. Hopefully there will be some lessons tucked in the crevices for the next generation of emcees and hip-hop heads.
“It’s a game and I’m ya specimen”…so get’cha notebooks ready and pay attention.