01 February 2019

REVIEW | Black Thought - Streams of Thought Vol. 2

Ask and you shall receive. When I posted my Streams of Thought Vol 1 review over the summer, I ended it by saying that I hoped we'd get a volume two soon. The Monday after Thanksgiving, Black Thought blessed us with just that. Streams of Thought Vol 2 continues his assault on the throne as he appears to be on mission to solidify his place on the god emcee tier. After his success with the 9th Wonder assist for the first EP, I was very curious as to who Thought would collab with to follow up his Streams of Thought series. My top producer picks were: Pete Rock, DJ Premier, Large Professor, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and the Alchemist. I think Pete Rock, Preem, and Extra P were "safe" bets. PR and Preem already have tracks with Black Thought. So we know that would have been a home run. Don't think Large Pro linked up with Black Thought, but not 100 on that. But you know it would have been a solid pairing. Jazzy Jeff would have given us that Philly connection. I know they've been on stage together, but don't think they have a studio joint together. Alchemist was the wild card. I was not aware that they had a track together when I started this review. But the ALC single "Roman Candles" has Black Thought on it, among other features. That joint dropped late last year, and that joint BANGS. But no dice. No points awarded to house BITM. Black Thought went ahead and hit my set with the big joker. With Salaam. Fucking. Remi. What a pick! It is one of those picks, that after you hear it you go "of course." So my typical "this works on paper but did it actually work?" review question is null and void. Now the only question is, "will this emcee/producer pairing of Black Thought and Salaam Remi be better than the Vol 1 pairing of Black Thought and 9th Wonder?" What a great moment in Hip Hop. Let's go.

For the Streams of Thought sequel, Thought almost doubles the track count from five (Vol 1) to nine (Vol 2). The intro, "Fentanyl," really sets the stage for the uninitiated. The Roots, Black Thought, and Salaam Remi fans knew the intro was going to go hard (pause). Maybe not like this though. Remi showed great restraint by providing a very minimal instrumental. The gritty drum and guitar heavy track allowed Black Thought to flow with zero restrictions. In a single verse, Thought drops an intense allegory using the opioid crisis to create an amazing parallel. We've all heard the "my flow is so dope you should smoke me" verse in some way or another. "Fentanyl" takes that idea/verse and turns it into a fully conceptualized theme/track. In an array of poetically graphic bars, Thought presents this drug use through a very unromanticized lens. Toward the end of the verse, after this deglamorized foundation is set, Thought compares his flow to fentanyl. If you are reading this, I know that the reveal isn't really shocking. Again, we've all heard rappers use drugs as a metaphoric link to their flows. But the intellectual approach in this track (and MANY Black Thought tracks), is what elevates Thought to a different level. Great way to start the project.

The following songs like "Soundtrack to Confusion" and "Get Outlined" give us Golden Era-breaks and drum loops that create a smooth transition from track to track. "History Unfolds" is probably the first instrumental that raises the energy a bit. Secondary instruments are less muted and each layer stands out more versus the previous minimal tracks. Black Thought uses historical references to emphasize his skill set and his place in the history of Hip Hop. "How to Hold a Choppa" sonically slows the beat down again, but this time with a jazz influenced beat. Black Thought's class is in session as he dives into incredibly deep and complex anecdotal bars touching on morally partisan perspectives. Back on his braggadocio shit with the next track, "The New Grit," allows Thought to attack the track with reckless abandonment. This is first Remi track on the project that had my face stuck in stank face mode. Or I should say that had my hype meter all the way up. You definitely want your bass on eleven for this one. "Long Liveth" is another percussion heavy track that Thought uses to drop two very different verses. The first verse gives us Thought's growing concern with the current state of Hip Hop, second verse flows into bars that are more autobiographical. The first track with a chorus (in the whole Streams of Thought series, so far) comes in the eighth track, "Streets." Their is no possible way I could do justice to the slew of insane metaphors and impossible flows Thought created for this track. So yeah. Just peep it. You can actually Google/YouTube it now. Come back when you ready.

The final track, "Conception," was actually the first single for the project. It is also the only track to have a music video (since the writing of this review). Along with "Streets," this track follows the typical song formula of verse-chorus-verse ("Conception" and "Street" are the only tracks to do that in the current Streams of Thought series). Salaam Remi channels the essence of an R&B track with a soulful mix of instruments and vocals, along with Reek Ruffin on the hook. I am not sure if this is the debut of Reek Ruffin on this chorus, but it wasn't until I saw the video that I was blown away by who he is. This was a revelation to me, but maybe proper Black Thought fan's knew about this alter ego. Reek Ruffin is Black Thought's singer persona. So on top of being a top tier emcee, dude is also a soulful Marvin Gaye crooner. Go figure. Thought touches on love, relationships, fame, race, and religion in this radio ready single. It doesn't get smoother than this one right here. And the music video tells a beautiful story of a young couple just making it through this world as a team. The love story is juxtaposed with Black Thought in a club-sized room performing "Conception." There is a full circle moment at the end that I won't spoil, but just know this video has legit production value behind it.

I was joking with another Hip Hop fan that you need a PhD to really break down and dissect a Black Thought track/album. After diving into Streams of Thought Vol 2, I gotta say that statement definitely holds true. What makes Black Thought special is that he effortlessly appears to have the ability to create conscious, complex, and meaningful music. Grown music. You're not gonna hear Black Thought in the headphones of boys at the mall with sagging skinny jeans (just..why? how?), or with girls around a car doing whatever the latest #twerkchallange is. One good thing (maybe only good thing) about getting older is getting to that "I don't give a fuck" stage. But there is a difference between having that feeling as an adolescence, and adding perspective and experience to that equation. When you hear young rappers talk about "we keepin' it a buck" or "we out here keepin' it real", you hear that subconscious (or conscious) hint of immaturity. It is only with years of experience (for the most part) that you can channel that feeling into something productive. After a few decades in the game, it is that growth that has allowed Black Thought to evolve into the god emcee we see/hear today. Could he have created the Streams of Thought series in his 20s? 30s? I'm not going to definitively say no, but there is probably a reason we got them joints when he's 46-47. His bars are poignant and precise. And I ain't even get into DEM BEATS yet. Salaam Remi came at this project with the same benefit of wisdom and experience. Remi was able to bring his whole arsenal (or damn near all of it) to the table. We got: boom bap tracks, percussion heavy joints, minimal/muted instrumentals, jazz influenced beats, and that R&B smooth single. Paired with Black Thought's A.1. flow and content, you can't loose. Sequels normally have the stigma of being less than its predecessor. In this case, not the case. 9th Wonder is in my top five (and Remi would probably round the top 10-15). So I went into Streams of Thought Vol 2 with an insanely high bar. And I admit, I was worried when the track list almost doubled. Even though I feel all top tier emcees should be able to drop a ten track project of the highest caliber at the drop of a dime. Final verdict: Vol 2 is better than Vol 1. It might not be fair because, as I mentioned, Streams of Thought Vol 2 has almost double the tracks. And I KNOW that if 9th and Thought dropped a ten track project, it would have been top shelf. But I can only judge what I got. With more tracks, there is also the possibility of having a whack track or two. Again, not the case. The range of beats and content make this bulletproof. Take notes, because if this is how Black Thought attacked 2018 I can't wait to see what's in store for 2019.

With no hesitation I say cop that Streams of Thought Vol 2 (and Vol 1 while you at it) if you haven't already done so. Start your 2019 with some of the best of 2018. So with a sense of deja vu, I'll say that I hope a "volume 3" is around the corner. Peep the amazing video for "Conception" below.

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