After roughly 30 years of hard work and dedication, Black Thought has formed one of the strongest cases for the hip hops constantly challenged goat title. With an illustrious 27 years and counting with The Roots, a fantastic feature catalog, and being one of the most crafty lyricists and freestylers ever, there’s no question why some go as far as to give him this honor already. While his Streams of Thought EP’s in 2018 were solid, it wasn’t enough to prove that he could hold his own as a solo artist, but with the series’s third installment also being his full-length solo debut, the only gripe against him can finally change. On Streams of Thought, Vol. 3: Cane and Abel, will Black Thought be able to entertain the listener without his legendary band supporting him?
Having 13 tracks to create and flesh out his own vision, Black Thought embodies the talents he’s known and loved for while, also dabbling into some unmarked territory. From distorting his vocals on “I’m Not Crazy”s intro and outro to harmonizing on “Nature of the Beast”, it’s interesting to see one of raps purest MCs step out of his comfort zone (even if the attempt fails). Just as the previous two installments focused on the time’s prominent issues, The Roots frontman does his best tackling racial tension in the United States. In his attempt to do this, the story being told spans hundreds of years as Tariq Trotter draws information from the earliest slave ships to form a logical analysis on how racial injustice has become the unsolvable crisis it is today. Whether he’s painting a brutally vivid picture of riots brewing in inner cities on “State Prisoner” or contemplating his decisions and failures as an African American man on “Quiet Trip” and “Fuel”, the raw pain and aggression that Black Thought brings at every moment shows he’s still one of the games premier artists. At the heart of this, the minute and a half long “Ghetto Boys and Girls (Fuel Interlude)” firmly addresses the corruption and misconception taught to the youth as Thought tells a tragic story of shattered dreams and murdering feigns. Toning things down “Magnificent” shows the personal side of the 49-year-old MC as he thinks about the complications, failures, and fights that being in love has brought him. A definite standout was “Good Morning” with Swizz Beatz, Pusha T, and Killer Mike as the group radically takes down the system that has been feeding them lies all their lives. In the same light, “Thought vs Everybody” and “Steak Um” with ScHoolboy Q kicks Black Thought on his knees and tests his principles as an activist and, more importantly, a human. Still having the ability to turn his mental demons into thought-provoking art, Black Thought continues to defeat father time.
Handled mostly by the legendary Sean C, Streams of Thought Vol. 3 contains a soundtrack integral to Black Thought’s trademark style. Cuts like “I’m Not Crazy” and “Magnificent”‘ are right down Thought’s alley as their authentic instrumentation sound like b-sides off his most recent albums with the Roots. On the other side of things, the angelic abrasiveness of “State Prisoner” and “Ghetto Boys and Girls (Fuel Interlude)” makes each word coming from Thought’s mouth feel more dramatic than ever. “Good Morning”s beat is the perfect example of sonic chaos as its bashing drums, loud sirens, and ground shaking synths are the only thing scarier than Thought, Pusha T, and Killer Mike making a posse cut. While Sean C’s orchestral brilliance is seen throughout on cuts like “Quiet Trip” and “Steak Um”, he struggles on expanding his sound, which is seen on the awkward RnB ballad “Nature of the Beast”. Pushing the album’s overall narrative are the skits from figures like Minster Ishmael Muhammad and Dave Chapelle as they add commentary on black excellence. While nothing is mind-boggling here, Sean C makes Black Thoughts debut album a well-rounded experience.
While not on the level of his top tier work with The Roots, Streams of Thought, Vol. 3: Cane and Abel proves that Black Thought is still an above average solo artist. Each songs emotional power leaves the listener with an undeniable impact and the only real gripes with the record comes from its narrative mess and failure to thoroughly expand on topics of systemic racism. In the future, Black Thought plans on releasing more Streams of Thought volumes, and if they continue to stay on the track of their predecessors, he will only further strengthen his legend status.
- Black Thought is still a top 5 lyricist in the game
- Big-name features perform amazingly
- Food for thought lyricism
- Emotionally driven delivery/production
- Well placed skits
- Top tier storytelling
- Sean C blends his style and Black Thoughts well
- Messy narrative
- B-list features underperform
- For Black Thought’s standards fails to reinvent or blow away the listener
- Sonic/Vocal Experimentation fails most times