Black Thought is easily one of the best emcees and lyricists to ever touch a mic. Some may even argue he’s the greatest of all-time. With a discography that includes his work in Hip-Hop group, The Roots. With whom he co-founded with drummer, Questlove and has spanned nearly 30 years. The argument used to always be that he didn’t put out enough solo material to really warrant that claim. But now after putting out more solo material than ever before with his, Streams of Thought series. That he started a couple of years ago in 2018. When he released Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 as EP’s. He now returns this year with his a little over a couple of months ago released third volume in the series. In, Streams of Thought, Vol. 3: Cane & Able. That also marks his solo debut album.
A master class in both rhyming and flow. As we have come to expect over the years with his countless flawless performances throughout the years. Vol. 3: Cane & Able, is not only arguably the best Hip-Hop album to drop in 2020, but easily one of the best albums across all of music period this year. Not to mention some of Thought’s best work to date in his truly legendary and astounding career. That also shows how much he has grown as not only an emcee, but artist over the years. With how diverse and unique this is compared to what we have come to expect from him over the years too.
Yes, you get the usual masterful lyrical performances that has Thought rhyming as if the world was going to end and like his life depended on it. That is so 2020 with everything that has gone on throughout the year. From the global pandemic and extreme amount of losses, both to life itself for so many and for so many businesses as well. As a result of the constant never ending grapplings of COVID-19. That along with the themes of social justice, police brutality, environmental disasters, and relationship problems. Among some of the many things explored throughout the album. That Thought brings a sense of urgency and purposeful nature that we all can learn from. Also putting him a class of emceeing and artistry that not many others have reached or can touch on the way he can.
The production from Sean C. on the album throughout. Something else that really stands out and is able to really bring the best out of Thought. In much the same way so many times in recent years and really since the beginning of Hip-Hop. Where one producer has produced a whole album for an emcee and made it work so well. With Freddie Gibbs work with Madlib and The Alchemist being some of the most recent example of this you can best compare it to. In the way he is able to provide such different and merky diverse styles of production. Such as the grim piano and pounding drums to go with the soaring vocal samples on the very opening track. Where Thought spits such lyrical mastery as, “They say the world keep turnin’, California burnin’. Who ignited the thirst for knowledge over the learnin’? Oh wise and powerful, black scholar holdin’ a sermon. The Gods is proud of you with your sword raised in a turban.”
The Philadelphia emcee letting you know from the beginning he isn’t playing around. As the intro perfectly segues into the very thumping drums and snares of easily not only one of the most standout tracks on the album, but you will hear. With, State Prisoner. Where he raps such standout lyrics as, “Salute your father, I’m headed back to Wakanda. After the drama, rappers get medivac’ed to the trauma. To kill a lion separated from the pride. I rule Zion, I am the most hated one alive. A gun was fired, another one expired. I represent the unwanted, undesired. Wash my hands of it all, then raise one and testify. To lyrical manslaughter, I’m guilty but justified.” That really shows how lyrically yet again Thought has so lyrically sharpen his pen to another level. Not many others can hold to him. Unless you are of the capabilities of Killer Mike and Pusha T. Who bring their A+ lyrical pen game to the standout single, Good Morning. A very powerfully soulful and drum-driven track that features the two aforementioned emcees and Swizz Beatz. In which all three emcees show why they are not only some of the illest emcees now, but ever. With Mike providing such quotables as,”Just as soon as the sun rise, the night dies. You was building pyramids and African empires. Where pale-skin savages with straight hair and light eyes. Was still eatin’ raw meat and barely could light fires. Before we ever sold cocaine, we civilized Spain. You are not the first black man in the Mediterrane’.” That’s easily not only the best guest verse on the album, but arguably one of the better verses on the album and easily one of the top verses of the whole year.
Magnificent is yet another standout that will have you continually rewinding back to it. The very funky drums with the bluesy guitar infused production perfect for Thought’s lower in tone than usual and more natural flow. Where he raps, “I hurt myself to see if I could feel. (I am magnificent!) Then I began to pray to see if God was real. I said, “All-Seeing, reveal to me that which is concealed.” Somethin’ told me that I probably shouldn’t be behind the wheel of that Bonneville. I was still feelin’ kinda ill. Not a dollar bill. Time to kill, tryna sign a deal. Ten years before State Prop was rock la famille. I was poppin’ pills unaware that steel sharpens steel, I’ve grown.” Within the first few bars. Showing how much he has grown as an emcee too.
By the time you get to the midway point of the album. Thought really shows how masterful he is on the mic with the very upbeat, Quiet Trip. That’s a true masterclass from Thought in metaphor after metaphor of untamed mastery on the mic. That’s also a very moving dedication to the Philadelphia streets that raised him. With the features from rock band, Portugal. The Man and rapper/singer, The Last Artful, Dodger on the hook. The perfect complimentary to such a stellar track. That sounds like it could have been made by Outkast or another great great Southern Hip-Hop act. Which Thought makes work for him. That then perfectly segues into the very catchy, Nature of the Beast. That also features Portugal and The Last Artful, Dodger. Where Thought even sings part of the hook and goes for an even more sing style even when he raps his verse. That we aren’t so used to hearing from him, but he shows he can do very well. Showing his growth as an artist and songwriter that can do more than just rap. With the record very catchy and one that most everyone can truly cherish. That you can even possibly hear or see in some type of commercial.
One of the more personal tracks on the album is the C.S. Armstrong and OSHUN featured, We Could Be Good (United). In which Black Thought contemplates the frequent emptiness so many relationships have nowadays. Due to so many looking for self-worth, accolades and/or “clout” through social media interactions rather than actual meaningful human interactions with one another. That then perfectly segues into the very standout single, Steak Um. Which features TDE’s ScHoolboy Q on the very bleak and eeirie sounding track. That is a collaboration most never would have thought of, but works very well and the Dave Chappelle intro so perfectly sets up too. With that so seamlessly seguing into the very first single we heard from the album, Thought vs Everybody. A politically charged track that sticks to the musical roots we are used to hearing from, The Roots. In which Thought goes after everyone and everything for three minutes about the constant killings of black people we constantly hear about. Hearing and seeing about it more now than ever before. Thought gets off more in three minutes than most can in an entire verse or song. Showing just how effortless he makes it to be such a top tier lyricists and emcee. That a lot can’t even fathom.
The album closes with another somewhat personal track, Fuel. That is yet another track featuring Portugal and The Last Artful, Dodger. The very introspective track finding Black Thought at a crossroads. As he contemplates the direction of his life. Such bars as, “I was tryna get what I could get before I get locked up. And when the death clock struck. I was depressed enough to go ahead and press my luck. They held me down so long, I figured I should just rise up. Like helium from the delirium.” Showing how he tries to cope with those feelings of hopelessness and depression. While trying to also find a source of inspiration from it to bring out his greatness. That he raps with, “But are my best years of life behind me or still ahead of me? What would I leave behind if I was over everything? The foundation for creation of a better me. That’s honestly the true definition of legacy.”
With a legacy as great as Black Thought’s. It is definitely no surprise that the album falls short of nothing. With Thought continually showing why he’s ions above most, if not all of his peers. Delivering one of the more well-rounded debut albums you will hear. That shows there is still a true craft to emceeing in everything from rhymes to flow to cadence. That’s a skill that can not be so easily taught and is made even better with such well curated soundscapes and production to complement such a masterpiece.