When others or we offer descriptions of ourselves, the summation of the persona is also associated with our given or assumed names. Actors, entertainers, professionals often attach themselves to more notable names to bring them out of the shadows of obscurity and set them apart for eternity. They select names in an attempt to reflect an image, capture attention and denote some aspect of their spirit or character. Black Thought is a name that is successful in accomplishing all three of those objectives and provoking just what it is intended to — black thought, either individually or collectively.
It was my pleasure and honor to meet the man who wears the name and does it justice. My conversation with Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, founder and band leader of the critically acclaimed group The Roots, turned out to be a transcendental meeting that elevated the concept of brotherhood into a realm of mutual appreciation, which is the domain of those who live their lives in a state of reverence and respect for themselves and others.
The notion that Black Thought is simply a front man or just a lead singer would be a woefully erroneous and inadequate representation of the man. He is much more, a composer and veteran artist who for more than 20 years has been a catalyst for innovation and a constant in the struggle for persevering through adversity. He is an untiring seeker of truth — a trooper and soldier who is always at the ready for a demonstration of strength, no matter the consequences. We were reminded through our labors and our battle scars that maturity evolves and not every one hears the call as clearly as those who have been on the front lines and in the trenches.
It was there in Detroit on his birthday that we engaged in insightful discourse about the condition of incarcerated brothers who will not celebrate their birthdays with cakes and party favors. They would instead look into the bare, naked jailhouse lights that would force them to recall the traps of life they stepped into rather than around. They would have to endure disturbing nightmares and examine the scars caused by the institutional brutalization of dreams not only deferred but denied through prolonged confinement.
Black Thought shared the plight of his brothers in Philadelphia who would not be celebrating their birthdays in-kind, and like he and members of the band — working, as they are now the official house band of “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” He understood and respected the beauty and the blessing in working. When I posed the question inquiring about the blessings of being free on his birthday, he went on a discourse about freedom, its benefits and the blessings thereof, while showing remarkable sensitivity for those who were not as fortunate.
It is impressive that a brother who has been touring for 20 years would remain diligent in remembering those who are incarcerated, and refuse to deny the existence of those people in our lives who have not quite figured out how to ignore the calling of the streets, how to reject the downside of the game and how to avoid temptation. In short, those who are locked down.
The interview was short, but his remarks were poignant. Black Thought pointed to the ring on his finger and spoke with warmth and great affection about his family and all that they meant to him. Even in his use of a word like innovation, he illuminated how he and the group — his band family — could continue to work hard to redefine themselves and the music, but always in the context of family and mutual respect and admiration.
It was both refreshing and personally illuminating to talk with such an enlightened brother as Black Thought. The artist-activist advocates that we think before we pull the trigger, think before we inflict pain or each other, think before we dismiss the possibilities of the future.
Thought does indeed apply to every possible set of circumstances, actions and outcomes we face. Thought needs to be exercised in developing a deeper appreciation of our history, a more introspective examination of our present, and a more positive and productive outlook for our future. Black Thought and black thought require that we set our sights on uncovering what is true and elevating the dialogue of our lives.