Review Summary: Thought @ Work
Black Thought is the greatest MC of all time. I feel pretty confident claiming this, 35 years into his career with no sign of slowing, and several killer projects after the feeling that I was listening to the best alive first started to sneak in. Just look at the dude's discography: from his young and hungry days sharing off-the-charts chemistry with Malik B to the grit and rigour that defines his diamond-sharp rhymes throughout the Streams of Thought
project, the headiness with which he spits a dizzying 84-bar flex over nothing but a drumbeat on "Web" to the patient way he sketches a heartbreaking story in reverse chronology on The Roots' masterful Undun
. Yeah, this is the greatest rapper there is, and the potentially year-stealing Cheat Codes
is just another killer album from a man who delivers nothing else.
Much like the Streams of Thought
trilogy, Cheat Codes
sees Thought linking up with one sole producer across the runtime, with this album's boardsmith Danger Mouse doing such a great job that his name comes first in the album credits. Indeed the chemistry between Mouse's tightly-wound, soulful loops and Thought's rugged bars is so airtight that Questlove must be feeling a little uneasy. It's sweet enough that there's a palpable feeling of deflation whenever another MC takes the mic on Cheat Codes
, although there are clear highlights in the ever-welcome, dearly-missed MF DOOM, conscious-rap heir apparent Conway the Machine and (surprisingly) a cocky-sounding A$AP Rocky, acquitting himself much better than a tired-sounding Raekwon, another copy-pasted Killer Mike verse or fuckin' Russ for some reason.
Still, we're all here to watch Black Thought work and he does his thing beautifully, seemingly effortlessly, without a single missed breath across the 38 minutes of this album. Slow-burners "Identical Deaths" and "Violas and Lupitas" call to mind the more introspective raps he brought to his year-topping feature on Saba's "Few Good Things", while the likes of "Close to Famous" and "No Gold Teeth" exist just to let Thought talk his shit - but it's the unbelievable rhymes on "Aquamarine" that demonstrate why the man is simply the best at what he does. Danger Mouse provides the right kind of support without trying to steal the spotlight, and engineers a smooth album flow that recalls the more cohesive Streams of Thought, Vol. 2
over its more scattershot siblings. Really, though, this should be an easy sell for anybody who knows their shit: if you don't, sit back, shut your trap, and listen to the master at work.