The Thinking Man’s Rapper by Touré

Check out this interview on one of my favorite MC's.

In a rare interview, Touré talks with Black Thought—front man for The Roots and the new house MC of Late Night with Jimmy Fallonabout what Chuck D. taught him about race, why rapping is like jumping rope, and the reasons behind his rhymes.

Black Thought is not just one of the best-named MCs in hip-hop history, he’s one of the best. As the front man of The Roots—Jimmy Fallon’s new house band for his late-night talk show—Black Thought is both a rapper’s rapper and an intellectual’s rapper, who doesn’t brag about the ghetto and never has to say how tough he is. He has a deliciously deep and steely voice, a tremendous rhythmic sensibility, and a pen that delivers furious flurries of rhymes about everything—politics, women, language, whatever. He’s got a personal style that’s as serious as a heart attack—he evinces that there’s-no-smiling-in-hip-hop thing, as if he’s not here to be loved by you, but instead here to slay you with his skill, take your respect, and leave.

Over the years, Black Thought, born Tariq Trotter, has done very few interviews—preferring, he says, to let his rhyming speak for him. But as The Roots will appear every night on Jimmy Fallon, he’s growing a little more amenable. I pulled him aside during a band rehearsal in a rehearsal space in Manhattan one day, found a tiny room, and talked to him about some of the science behind being an MC.

Who are the MCs you most closely studied and learned something from?

Kool G Rap. Big Daddy Kane. Rakim. KRS-One.

What have you learned from them?

From G Rap, I learned not to be pigeon held as regards to my vocabulary. The young Kool G Rap, when he was the cool genius of rap, it was really about the genius part and the fact that his lexicon was crazy.

It doesn’t matter than he might be using words that we, the audience, don’t know.

Shit, I use words that I don’t know but, you know, they just sound dope. G Rap was not just using hip-hop slang and words that everyone knew and not just using big words just for the sake of using them—he would use them in their proper context. G Rap, if he was an instrument, he’d be like a drum, whereas Rakim was like brass, he was more melodic. I’d compare Rakim to a saxophone. But from Rakim I got the melodic influence and just repetition in my patterns. I got more of the subtleties, I saw someone perfectly marrying consciousness with musicality with street credibility and still gangster. And his tone was crazy. He had a very distinct delivery. Sometimes nasal meets guttural.

“I’ve become a functioning cog in the machine called The Roots, but in my youth I was comin’ from a more braggadocious, egotistical perspective.”

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