If you take a look at the lyrics to “The Imperial,” Statik Selektah‘s latest release from his upcoming disc, What Goes Around, you’ll see that not only is the song named for one of Black Thought‘s bars, it’s named after him, or rather, what he calls himself. “Some rappers just startin’ out, but me, I’m more accomplished / The imperial Black Thought from the foreign object,” he spits with unimpeachable gravel. Noticing that, the track is all but named “Black Thought,” and it becomes even more clear then that this is the Philly spitter’s show and his alone. Whereas an off-his-game Action Bronson and an on-his-game Royce Da 5’9 get 16 bars a piece, Black Thought goes ahead and forgets how to count, spitting a mean and epic 52.
The verse is all parts typical (dope) Black Thought, from the punchlines to the old school adlibs to the role of the wise old badass that he fits so neatly into. Aside from his more relaxed tone here, it’s almost precisely the sequel to last year’s “Bird’s Eye View,” which houses a Black Thought performance that was one of our favorites of the year. Perhaps after hearing how well their collab worked out, Statik (and Thought) decided to repeat: grab an up-and-comer (last time it was Joey Bada$$, this time it’s Bronson) and a vet (last time had Raekwon, this time, Royce), each of high lyrical calibur, and have Thought come in as the world’s most solid anchor.
It seems it’s Statik’s mission with these tracks to teach the current generation about just how damn good Black Thought is. The Boston producer uses his powers as hip-hop’s non-radio Khaled, or “unofficial Make-A-Wish foundation for dream rap collaborations,” for the good of pushing a point that came across stronger last time (as the verse on “Bird’s Eye View” was superior) but louder this time: Black Thought is a top five MC.
Is he? Now, that’s far too large, opinion-driven, and vague question for us to answer right now with certainty, but if you get any new ideas in your head today, make it this one. The answer should at least be maybe. Given the other four that Thought lists in his “Imperial” verse–“Jay, Biggie, Pac, Nas,” there’s no inherent 5th figure. No MC has made material that both had such of-the-moment impact and the longevity to stand up to any record of the modern era. The closest just may be Black Thought, a man with none of the cultural weight of the aforementioned group, but damn near all of their talent, catalog, and staying power. They’re not just called “the legendary Roots crew” because of Quest and the band.
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