(Flow 8, Lyrics 9.5, Distinctiveness/Originality 9.5, Charisma 5, Consistency 8.5, Longevity 8.5, Punchlines 8.5, Subject Matter 9.5, Quality 8.5, Influence 9.5)
It’s hard to separate Black Thought from the awesomeness that is the Roots, but many musicians have tried to do just that, hoping to use the band as backing for their own projects, but ignoring the Philadelphia MC. As a listener, don’t make the same mistake.
Black Thought is aptly named. Lyrically, he’s outstanding; he addresses a variety of subjects with a depth that rivals Chuck D. He’s very much underrated when it comes to punchlines and some of the flashier aspects of wordplay, in fact he’s underrated overall. It’s his workmanlike delivery that makes it easy to miss how good he is.
In fact, Black Thought seems to be very much introverted, mostly eschewing interviews or anything that takes away from his music and that decided lack of charisma is one of the things that keeps him from being acknowledged by the general public. It’s taken him nearly 20 years to even do a solo album because he’s a team player. (Also, who is going to provide better backing music than the Roots anyway?) But he’s already explained that attitude:
“People think that I’m crazy, just cause I wanna be alone
You can’t depend on friends to help you in a squeeze
We all deal with sh*t on our own
And sometimes the beef can grow, get out of hand
Yeah, you know it gets full blown
I never said that you mean the world to me
Maybe it’s best that you never know
Yo, I’m like Malcom out the window with the weapon out
Searching for somehow to find a minute or the second now
Precious time is money that I ain’t got to mess about
Need it from the horse’s mouth or from my eye with less account
Lessons with my back to the wall, scoping my session out
Stay a little edgy at times when I ain’t stressing bout
Haters don’t know sh*t about me, they the ones that talk sh*t
Those that love me send it out, so I ain’t got to force quit
Cause I’m doing better now, don’t mean I never lost sh*t
I was married to a state of mind and I divorced it, man
I’m from where brothers moving product from the porches
People locking their doors, clutching to their crosses
The block hot by the law, there ain’t too many choices
So what I do is for y’all, there ain’t too many voices left
I watch my back, and watch my step
And I might forgive, but I will not forget”
We’ve gotten to the point where rappers concentrate on acting, selling sneakers, clothes, energy drinks, cars and God knows what else. It’s become rare to have someone focus on music exclusively. And it seems like he gets punished for it.
(Flow 9, Lyrics 8.5, Distinctiveness 7.5, Charisma 7.5, Consistency 7, Longevity 9.5, Punchlines 8.5, Subject Matter 8.5, Quality 8, Influence/Popularity 11)
One of the biggest questions I got about this list is why Jay-Z was so low.
Let’s establish something, Jay-z has dominated the game. At this point he is probably the single most successful musician ever. I don’t say that lightly. But every album of his has gone platinum at least once. His business savvy has gotten him at least half a billion net worth by himself and let’s face it… he’s going to be hip-hop’s first billionaire. He owns or owned a sports agency, part of an NBA team, a clothing line,
More than that, he made classic music. To me his greatest gift isn’t just his cleverness, it’s his ability to convey any idea clearly and effortlessly. Jay-z could read the phonebook and make a song out of it. I think the storytelling aspect of his work is very underrated, because of radioplay we tend to focus on his singles. Honestly, I’m not a fan of everyone on the top ten list. But I am a Jay-z fan.
So why is he so low?
Because of his alter ego, Lay-z.
His gift is a curse. Because we know how hard he can go, and how great he is, it’s easy to tell when he’s cruising because he can get away with it. And he’s been taking a lot of plays off the last few years. He’s the Albert Haynesworth of hip-hop. If you heard Jay on “Reservoir Dogs” then you’ll hate Jay on “Otis.” He had the greatest modern feud in hip-hop with Nas, but blew it because he rushed out a lazy response to “Ether.” For the record, the actual response was Blueprint 2. Read the lyrics. It’s a brilliant takedown of Nas and the record he should have released in the first place. But he didn’t.
It’s not going to get better. Jay-z has a lot on his plate. Music is less important now than it ever was, and people will buy anything with his name on it. Why would he be inspired to work harder?
More than anyone else, this is the saddest entry on the list.