Black Thought, legendary front man of The Roots has dropped his debut solo album 'Streams of Thought, Vol. 3: Cane and Able', following a couple of EP's acting as prequels to this project. Thought is one of the best rappers to ever live, and his lyricism is matched by nearly no one - but could he put this skill to work and make a great, cohesive album?
The production on here is good, it isn't too complicated and gives Black Thought his room to showcase his skills, such as on 'Magnificent', which has this bubbly beat with a deep bass guitar melody which is great and groovy as the stripped back nature of the track allows Black Thought to manoeuvre on it as the tracks explains his come up and talks on how skilled he is compared to his competition with complex lyricism and a lot of religious imagery. The groovy bass keeps the track moving along as Thought spits over this beat with such grace and it's a great track. Despite being so stripped back, the bass guitar melodies and drum patterns always help to give us an entertaining beat, such as on 'Thought vs Everybody' which is very simplistic with these plucking guitar strings and a good bass guitar melody to allow Thought to move around the beat as he provides amazing punchlines and is lyrically so skilled, "Latrophobia, that's a fear of the healer // Kaepernick is an activist, y'all in fear of the kneeler", "Shittin' on everything, 5'9", 6'4" lyrically", as the track talks on a few things including how no one will take him on in rap as well as touching on police brutality. It's the first song I'd say is good not great, it's enjoyable but doesn't stand out as others do on here. It's more glossy and glamorous than I expected, and it works so well for his style and despite not being overly flashy production wise it works to Thoughts strengths. 'I'm Not Crazy (Outro)' has this electric guitar with a sorry piano and isn't anything special but is decent as the track acts as a reprise to the intro and as a closer works well, and it's decent enough but it's not a track I ever want to come back to.
Black Thought's lyricism is kind of what you expect at this point, very complex with thought provoking bars and just a very high quality display of writing, such as on 'I'm Not Crazy (First Contact)', "We go to war when peaceful solution's impossible // A mountain is not to be confused with an obstacle", as the track talks on the problem with humanity including violence and the thirst of results rather than the process. It's a nice introduction, the voice effect adds effect in itself and it sets the tone down really well for what's to come in this album. There's not a bad verse on here, and most verses also touch on socially conscious themes and are explored in a gripping way, such as on 'Quiet Trip', which gives a commentary on the place Thought grew up in with guns, police raids etc. and even painting him in the story at times over this catchy drum pattern and bass guitar melody giving it a very chaotic feel. Portugal. The Man provides really smooth vocals and a nice hook as The Last Artful actually had a really pointless feature. It's a catchy track, the features surprised me and did great here but Thought's rapping was so technically efficient and elevated this track to another level. 'Steak Um' see's some crazy good braggadocio on a whole other level as Thought flexes his wealth and success, "Cabernet Sauvignon with Fabergé egg omelets", as ScHoolboy Q compliments Thought well and his flow is great as he talks on his drug dealing past over this deep guitar bass and dramatic vocal chants which create an eerie beat. It's an absolute banger as both go hard on this great but unsettling track. He showcases why he's one of the best lyricists of all time, and rappers too as his smooth flow never feels forced or rushed and he just breezes over the beats with a great energy to his mean delivery despite not forcing that energy.
There's a mixture of features on here, we get great vocalists who give us great hooks, such as on 'We Could Be Good (United)' as OSHUN and C. S. Armstrong. give us a great vocal range and soulful hook over this glossy, stripped back beat with complimenting factors as the track talks on a failing relationship and Thought's desire to save it. It's yet another great song with a really catchy hook and solid verses - it's not the most interesting topic but the music sounds good. We also get rappers who provide really nice verses, such as on 'Good Morning' where Pusha T takes shots at Drake in his verse but also talks on drug money and his lavish lifestyle with great bars throughout and the usual mic presence and commanding delivery he has, as Killer Mike's verse is great as he talks on how people of colour civilised white people more or less and how he's a black king - he goes off on his verse. Black Thought provides gloomy imagery, "It's mad last wishes, gas mask kisses (Oh)", over this menacing bass and heavy drums as he talks on fame and black injustice. Every verse is solid, Swizz Beats zany hook acts as a nice interlude and the song just goes off. No matter who's picked, the features all turn up and perform as well as complimenting Thought. 'Nature of the Beast' see's John Gourley and Zoe Manville provide a really enjoyable hook, it's mainstream sound caught me off guard but it's catchy over this enjoyable drum pattern, screeching synths and futuristic sound effects which make it unique but great. Thought sings a small socially conscious verse about the culture of gossip, social media etc. as the track talks on how the worlds lack of self love means we're all going through things but life is what you make it. It feels like it belongs on a Disney sound track - but I can’t deny how catchy that hook is and how Thought's singing is actually good, the song is just a really easy listen and I shouldn’t like it but I do
Thought touches on socially conscious topics all throughout as shown on tracks like 'Thought vs Everybody'. Black injustice is also a key theme on here, such as on 'Fuel' as reconciles with those he needs to but the main theme is how black people are treated in America referencing the justice system, political standpoints, slavery etc. The warm, piano based beat clashes well with the bass guitar as he provides great bars and thought provoking lines all throughout, "Yo, they say my seed is a future threat, that's all too correct // For that two fifths of a man, that barrel to your neck". The hook from Portugal. The Man and The Last Artful's is pretty meh, and Artful's feature is pointless but the verses are great here, and while not being a standout track it's still good overall just not top tier. They don't connect together all the time, but they all focus on problems in life right now and explore these topics in depth - the content here is great. 'State Prisoner' just see's Thought flaunt how skilled of a rapper he is over this quick drum pattern and piano based beat which is decent but nothing crazy as he provides complex lyricism, great rapping and an immense flow to give us a song which is just so smooth on the ears. 'Ghetto Boys and Girls (Fuel Interlude)' talks on the gun wars of the ghetto over this very eerie, dramatic and icy instrumental. Thought's verse is short but sweet with some great lines, "Another day, another Glock fired, like we're not tired // Hollow men in the wasteland like T. S. Eliot // Spear stickin' out of the flesh of a fresh elephant // News comin' out in the press and they just relish it // When your hope's shattered in stress, you say, "To hell with it"", and it's a good little interlude.
To conclude, this album is great and it had a more accessible sound than I was expecting. His rhyming is top tier and even without catching every bar you'll find enjoyment in his skilled flow and delivery as everything is carefully selected on this - from the beats to the features to Thought's content. The skits and interludes on here are pretty good and entertaining before the tracks and after, as are the hooks and the verses which absolutely steal the show as Black Thought proves why he's one of the best rappers to ever live. The second half of the album is a bit more disappointing compared to the first half but it's still good as everything comes off so slick and despite being hard to decode which may be offputting for some - the actual sound of the album is great.
FAVOURITE TRACKS: I'm Not Crazy (First Contact), State Prisoner, Good Morning, Magnificent, Quiet Trip, Nature of the Beast, We Could Be Good (United), Steak Um
LEAST FAVOURITE TRACK: I'm Not Crazy (Outro) OVERALL RATING: Solid 8/10