If the parameters of illest emcee alive involved pure skill, engagement, diversity, and consistency, it would be very difficult to argue against this guy being at or near the top of the list.
Many of hip hop most well-known and well respected artists have consistently mentioned Black Thought when discussing their favorite emcees. He's worked and performed alongside a staggering list of high profile individuals (Big Pun, Common, Eminem, Big Daddy Kane just to name a few). Not to mention, he's been the lead vocalist for arguably one of the hardest working, most well traveled, and most prolific bands in the history of music, The Roots.
But all of that kind of info could be regurgitated until the cows come home. Instead, I would like to tell a quick story that I feel sums up my respect and admiration for Thought's work and commitment to this art.
My friend Mark and I were in our fifth semester of graduate school at Louisiana State University. I go by his crib one day and he excitedly mentions The Roots would be playing a few weeks later at the House of Blues in New Orleans. There was no way we were missing the show. So we bought our tickets...
We arrive in New Orleans incredibly early to a.) find a decent parking place b.) see some of the French Quarter and get a bite to eat and c.) make sure we were at the front of the line to get in the show. The plan was to be as close to the stage as possible so as not to miss a single second of the action. After parking, eating, and a bit of sightseeing, we made our way to the venue and sure enough we were in the first 20 people waiting to go inside. Our design was taking shape.
So there we are, one row of people from the edge of the stage within spitting distance of the performers. The first opening act was The Soul Rebels, and of course they lit the place up. Their set, however, was really no longer than 30 or 40 minutes, which didn't really do justice to their musical excellence. As I've mentioned before, they were robbed. Oh well...
Next up was this fly emcee chick named Jean Grae, who tends to figuratively devour microphones for fun. Needless to say, she was super-fresh and probably had every dude in the room falling in love with her, including me.
Then came The Roots, the main event. They started their set from the small balcony at the back of the venue. They had recruited a tuba player to join the band, (probably the same cat that's with them now on Jimmy Fallon's show) and as the sound of the tuba permeated the space they marched across the balcony, down the stairs, through the audience and onto the stage. People were going absolutely crazy. Once the band had taken their place, the music began, and Black Thought held hip hop court for what seemed a solid two hours of non-stop funkiness. Meanwhile, Mark and I are dancing and shouting Thoughts rhymes to each other like we had just won the SuperBowl. I honestly don't remember a point in which we stopped moving until The Roots left the stage, with a sonorous tuba leading the way.
But here's the good part.
When the show was over and everyone was leaving, Thought came back out on stage to shake hand with people. I said to Mark, "Hey man, let's go see if we can holla at Thought." So we go back down towards the stage and patiently wait to show Tariq some love. We get to the lip of the stage and as I extend my hand to Thought, he looks down at the two of us and a huge smile comes across his face. "I saw you man! I saw you!" he says to us, and gives us the super-extra-humble-excited handshake.
We were floored! He saw us!? Did the two tall skinny actor dudes with too much hair dancing like maniacs actually contribute to Thought's experience of emceeing in New Orleans!? That's the dopest thing ever!
It was at that moment when my admiration for Black Thought's skill and energy rose to gargantuan proportions. I would tend to think Mark's did as well. Tariq is truly about this hip hop thing. He recognizes he is of the community, not simply making music for it.
Oh, and TODAY IS HIS BIRTHDAY! (At least, that's what wikipedia says.) GO WISH HIM A HAPPY ONE OF FACEBOOK AND TWITTER!
Here's "Don't Feel Right" from Game Theory.