Black Thought and Danger Mouse’s ‘Cheat Codes’ Will Make Old-School Heads Feel Seen
The Roots’ Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter raps, “Fuck a thick skin, I got an exo-skeleton” on “Belize,” a highlight of his collaboration with Danger Mouse.
This tough-minded self-assessment isn’t surprising given his decades-long history as the most underrated MC and one of the greatest of all time. Black Thought’s voice is familiar over the Roots’ full-band, organic sounds. His verbal dexterity mixes with sample-based hip-hop, rare in mainstream rap.
Cheat Codes is Brian “Danger Mouse’s” first hip-hop album since 2005’s DangerDoom with MF Doom. This return to the sampledelic style he embodied on The Grey Album feels like a throwback to a more innocent, well-funded time, when records had budgets and not just the wealthiest rappers could afford fat samples.
The album, recorded piecemeal since 2006, features high-powered guests. A$AP Rocky and Run The Jewels join “Strangers” for a menacing drone, while Raekwon gives “The Darkest Part” a Wu-Tang Clan vibe. MF Doom, from “the days of no laces,” appears in “Belize.”
Black Thought’s voice is buried too often. Perhaps intentional, but it dilutes his talent, making him a spectral figure in the music. In 2017, he exploded on Hot 97 with a 10-minute freestyle that reminded rappers worldwide what pure lyricism sounded like. Hearing Black Thought subsumed by lush tracks here seems like a missed opportunity to show younger listeners how it was done in hip-golden hop’s age. Cheat Codes is a balm for Gen X hip-hop fans who feel out of step with trap’s spare beats and mumble rap’s hazy flow. Proof that hip-hop needs a senior circuit.
2. Cheat Codes
3. The Darkest Part (feat. Raekwon and Kid Sister)
4. No Gold Teeth
5. Because (feat. Joey Bada$$, Russ, and Dylan Cartlidge)
6. Belize (feat. MF DOOM)
7. Aquamarine (feat. Michael Kiwanuka)
8. Identical Deaths
9. Strangers (feat. A$AP Rocky and Run The Jewels)
10. Close to Famous
11. Saltwater (feat. Conway the Machine)
12. Violas and Lupitas