INTERVIEW – Black Thought’s moniker is well suited for Tariq Trotter. Deep, introspective and firmly connected to his roots (no pun intended), the 48-year-old Philly native approaches every lyric with precision and never fumbles when he illustrates a thought.
As the celebrated MC prepares to drop Streams of Thought Vol. 3: Cane & Able, he’s been looking inward more frequently during the many interviews he’s doing around the project. During a recent conversation with HipHopDX’s Kyle Eustice, he touched on his parents’ murders and how facing tragedy early on motivated to become the revered artist he is today.
Thought also spoke about the Roots’ infancy and how tours with diverse artists such as Beck, Beastie Boys and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion helped mold the Roots into the formidable band that can been seen every weekday night on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. In 1998, the Roots opened for Beck and Jon Spencer at the Civic Auditorium in Omaha, Nebraska. When asked about the show, it instantly rang a bell due to the unexpected lineup.
“I remember that show,” he tells DX. “That’s crazy! We were a motley crew, as I recall. All those tours we got ourselves on at that point in our career, like earlier on, with the Becks and the Beastie Boys and the like, it helped to sort of acclimate to the fact that we were going to have to be able to win an audience over. It gave us sort of a skillset that enabled us to base each performance on the people who were in attendance, what the energy was in the room and to sort of rise to that challenge every night. So yeah, it definitely equipped us with far more tools than just a hammer.”
“That was definitely the formative stage and those experiences still stick with me. That’s why I immediately remembered the show that you were talking about. Because I remember being like, ‘Yo, we’re with Beck and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion in Omaha, Nebraska.’ Like, “What the fuck?” And having to come out and do your thing, especially on a gig where you’re not the headliner and sometimes you’re not even the main opener, where you’re having to go on super early — it’s a huge challenge. But I think that’s what helped us make our bones.”
Before the Roots even started touring, they were drawing inspiration from their Hip Hop predecessors — specifically, Public Enemy. Around the time the Roots were formalizing their lineup in 1987, Public Enemy had just released their debut album Yo! Bum Rush The Show, an album that shook the Hip Hop community to its core. The revolutionary, political content and wild production from The Bomb Squad was unlike anything that had come before them.
In June, Thought had the chance to collaborate with Chuck D, Flavor Flav and DJ Lord for the video “Fight The Power 2020,” which served as the explosive (virtual) opener at the 2020 BET Awards. The visual also boasted contributions from Nas, Questlove, YG, Rapsody and Enemy Radio’s Jahi.
“That lineup was curated by the folks over there at BET, but I guess it was even more closely curated by Chuck D and the Public Enemy team based on people that Chuck had an existing relationship with,” he explains. “I feel like that being sort of early into the new normal with regards to streaming festivals and live concerts and award shows, I was really happy with the way BET rose to the challenge. The show was really well produced and I think it was dope.
“But you know, Public Enemy has been a huge influence in the Roots’ career from pretty much day one with regard to the Bomb Squad production and to Chuck D’s socio-political commentary and sort of what the band always stood for. They were always the huge influence on both Questlove and myself. There were points in our career where we were able to support the band in the same way that we supported the Beastie Boys and Beck, and so on and so forth. So we got to tour with Public Enemy in the States, as well as doing some shows in Europe and in Japan. Just always a huge influence.”
Thought went on to recall the numerous performances the Roots did with Public Enemy and marveled at the opportunity.
“Some of our earliest performances where we joined the musical guests back when we were still doing Late Night with Jimmy Fallon was with Public Enemy,” he says. “And I got to rap alongside Chuck D and do some of those iconic verses on songs like ‘Bring The Noise’ and stuff like that. So it’s always been just a huge honor and just a humbling experience to get to work with those guys in any capacity.”
He notes the “Fight The Power” remix was also a chance to finally connect with Nas, a collaboration a long time in the making.
“When I was tapped to jump on that record with people who I already had a relationship with like Chuck and Rapsody, as well Nas — who I’ve always wanted to jump on a record with, but he and I have only gotten to share the stage — it was an opportunity,” he says. “It was the same thing with YG. We’ve gotten to perform live together, but it was my first opportunity to jump on a record with him.
“So I feel like the range of artists that was presented together represented unity within Hip Hop in a very much needed way. Again, it was just an honor to be able to continue to speak truth to power and to be a familiar voice of reason in these troubling, very uncertain times.”
Streams Of Thought Vol. 3: Cane & Able was initially expected to arrive in July but was pushed back. No new release date has been revealed. Meanwhile, Public Enemy’s next album What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? is scheduled for a September 25 release and features Thought, Nas, Ice-T, Beastie Boys’ Ad-Rock and Mike D, YG and more.
Check back later this week for Part III of the DX interview with Black Thought. In the meantime, find Part I here.