Black Thought, the MC of the Roots, has been making a name for himself as a lyrical powerhouse since his impressive freestyle Ever since his HOT 97 10-minute freestyle rework of Rising Down highlight “75 Bars (Black’s Reconstruction)” back in 2017. However, his collaboration with Brooklyn psychedelic-soul instrumentalists El Michels Affair, titled Glorious Game, highlights a more humanistic side of his art. The Affair bring a certain atmosphere as a backing band that can evoke powerful imagery for a particular generation of hip-hop heads, with their collective ear for funk’s stranger, blearier qualities.

Black Thought takes these mood pieces and sinks just deep enough into them to absorb a vibe that he then turns around and commands into vivid life, making Glorious Game hit deep. His focused intensity is always good for naturalistic internal rhymes and deeply interlocked referential allusions, but the nuances of his different levels of emotional impact have flourished into his secret weapon as an MC.

The nuanced tone of his more emotionally reflective material, like the enduring search for Black joy on “I’m Still Somehow,” the sense-memory evocations of a familiar yet often ambivalent nostalgia for a formative time and place on “The Weather,” and the fight between disillusionment and confidence in “I Would Never,” set him apart from your typical lyrics-first rapper.

The album’s two most beatific moments, the title cut and the sobriety-reinvigorated affirmations of closer “Alter Ego,” showcase his talents. His boasts on the title cut sound more like self-actualizations than defence mechanisms, while on “Alter Ego,” he takes stock of all the existential questions that drove him to this point and answers them with a clarity that makes even his self-big-ups sound like humble truths.

El Michels Affair & Black Thought - Grateful - Live at Diamond Mine

Big Crown Records

Overall, Glorious Game is a testament to Black Thought’s talents as an MC and his ability to embody the humanistic side of his art. It’s a must-listen for any hip-hop head who wants to hear an MC who isn’t afraid to dive deep into their emotions.