I am reviewing Black Thought, Danger Mouse: Cheat Codes Album.
The fusion of these two legendary hip hop acts leaves a lasting impression sonically but struggles to find the “oomph” it’s looking for.
If there’s any review where I would say that the artist(s) need “no introduction”, it would be this one, but I’ll do it anyway. Black Thought, a legendary rapper due to not only his famous work with The Roots, but also his solo work, joins forces with the equally legendary and yet somewhat underrated producer, Danger Mouse, who is mostly known for his works with Ceelo Green and MF DOOM.
For lyrical hip-hop fans this combination sounds like a dream come true, the lyrical science of Black Thought fused with the complex, sample-heavy production of Danger Mouse is bound to produce something magical, and for the most part it does, but not without its ever-so-slight shortcomings.
Instrumentally the album is fantastic, constantly tapping into the soulful boom-bap production that’s synonymous with Danger Mouse’s style. One of the album’s best beats is “Sometimes”, the song samples Gwen McCrae’s “Love Without Sex”, using the outro of the song to form the cinematic opening of the album.
“Belize” is another highlight of the project, the melancholic context of DOOM’s feature is held up by Danger Mouse’s darkly mysterious instrumental, making DOOM feel like an eery ghost that fades away once his verse is over.
On Black Thought’s side of things however, as bad as I feel about saying this, he kind of left a lot to be desired. Don’t get me wrong, his pen was sharp and his lyrical content was anything but vapid, but still, it didn’t feel like a trick I hadn’t seen before.
His most noticeable performance, however, was on the song “Identical Deaths”, a metaphorical, incredibly well-penned verse about the seemingly perpetual loop of sin and seeking forgiveness, incredibly relatable. Unfortunately, a lot of the album besides this track doesn’t really evoke much more emotion, most of the albums lyrical content, besides it’s features, is Black Thought rapping about very generic conscious rap topics without necessarily providing a new perspective on them, although I will say, his rhythm patterns are still masterfully worked together.
Feature-wise, ASAP Rocky takes the cake, his cameo-like verse on Strangers is charismatic and slick, for me it ended up being one of the most entertaining moments on the whole album. The Dr. Seuss line he ends his verse with makes me smile on every listen.
Run The Jewels and Conway also provide a lot of much needed energy on the album, “RTJ”, with their kickdown-the-door attitude, absolutely dominate “Strangers” alongside ASAP, Conway comes through with his menacing drug rap bars, and the trio, Russ, Dylan Cartlidge and Joey Badass, all provide stellar verses pertaining to their different perspectives of growing up with the things they’ve witnessed on “Because”. One of the album’s best ideas thematically.
Speaking of themes one of the few themes that did manage to stick, was Black Thought’s impressive use of history. It’s well known that Black Thought exudes a scholastic persona, that shines through into his lyrics. From references to historical figures like Dick Gregory and even old movies like “Billy Bathgate”, Black Thought keeps the listener on their toes, sometimes you might even have to google who it is or what it is he’s talking about, his references are so broad.
Score/Good: Whilst I enjoyed the album a lot, I don’t think it’s the masterpiece it so desperately wants to be. Danger Mouse does a great job of providing a cohesive sound for the album and Black Thought ties things together with water-tight, educated flows, but still, with these two it could have been better.
[I rank albums on a scale of: Poor, Good, Excellent, Outstanding.]