More Culture:

April 14, 2023

Black Thought, El Michels Affair explore fame and identity on 'Glorious Game'

The Roots co-founder's second collaborative album, released Friday, features contributions from Kirby, Son Little and Brainstory

Music Albums
Black Thought Album Provided Image/Sesse Lind

Tariq 'Black Thought' Trotter and retro-soul group El Michels Affair released their collaborative album, 'Glorious Game,' on Friday. The album, which features Kirby, Son Little and Brainstory, dives into the Philly rapper's life and rise to fame.

Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter and retro-soul group El Michels Affair released their much-anticipated collaborative album, "Glorious Game," on Friday. 

On the 12-track album, The Roots co-founder wades through El Michels Affair's soulful production to deliver thoughts on his childhood, rise to fame and legacy as a powerful hip-hop lyricist. On "I'm Still Somehow," one of the album's slower songs,  Black Thought laments, "We should take time, smell the flowers, at the baseline for the powers that be, I wonder, what the hell is ours?"

Black Thought initially crossed paths with El Michels Affair frontman Leon Michels in the early 2000s. The two artists grew to respect each other's talents, and performed together at a handful of charity concerts in Philadelphia and New York. In the early days of their friendship, Black Thought often showed up at the band's studio to record with them. 

Then, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philly rapper reached out to Michels for material, and the two began to work on what became "Glorious Game." The project, announced in January with lead single "Grateful," blends Black Thought's rhythmic storytelling skills against Michels' cinematic sound. 

After the release of "Grateful," the two artists shared a handful of singles from the album, including "That Girl," in which Black Thought waxes poetic about meeting his "spiritual twin," "Glorious Game," the title track featuring R&B singer-songwriter Kirby and "I'm Still Somehow."

"Glorious game is just that information passed down from an OG, a gatekeeper, an elder statesman with a cautionary tale here and there but not being too preachy, told from a personal perspective, giving you some jewelry to move with," Black Thought told The Fader. "Hopefully every listener will be able to latch on to a different aspect of this project, and then move on and apply it to what they have to do — to their process or their relationship, their self-awareness, their lives." 

"Glorious Game" also features Son Little on "Protocol" and Brainstory on the album's final song, "Alter Ego." Black Thought and Michels spoke with Bandcamp about the album's emotional touches, providing an in-depth look on Black Thought's life from his childhood through the present, which the rapper said makes the finished product feel "so cohesive and personal and intimate." 

The songs take their inspiration from moments and feelings in the rapper's life. Black Thought told Bandcamp that "The Weather" brought him to a hot summer day in South Philly and his experiences growing up – spending time at his grandmother's house and walking through the streets of the city. 

Black Thought and Michels revealed that they'd like to work together again, and that fans of "Glorious Game" can be on the look out for more collaborations from them in the future. 

"I got to experience what it felt like to be almost ahead of time, ahead of myself, in that I've had such a full clip of unreleased material," Michels told Billboard. "I've just been creative in such a high capacity that I don't want to go back to the way it feels to have to do a deal, sit down with someone to figure out what you're going to do and then go to take marching orders and fulfill the assignment. This is the way for me." 

Though Trotter spends most of his nights playing alongside The Roots, the house band for "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," the rapper has been making moves of his own in recent years. Early last year, Black Thought wrapped up the off-Broadway run of his Afrofuturistic musical, "Black No More," which was met with widespread critical acclaim.

Just months after closing the stage play, Black Thought teamed up with record producer Danger Mouse on "Cheat Codes," the rapper's first collaborative album. The record tallied millions of streams and was included on multiple "best-of" lists at the end of the year, including one by former President Barack Obama. 

More recently, Black Thought provided some details about his upcoming solo album, "Streams of Thought Vol. 4," which will include artists like Redman, Yasmiin Bey and Rick Ross. 

For El Michels Affair, "Glorious Game" marks the band's latest since "Yeti Season" was released in 2021. The group, led by Michels, got its start touring behind acts like Raekwon and other Wu-Tang Clan members before releasing "Enter the 37th Chamber," a Wu-Tang covers album. 

Aside from producing the band's work, Michels has produced for the likes of Lady Wray, Norah Jones and Mary J. Blige. The band is slated to play at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival on Sunday afternoon

Black Thought and El Michels Affair's "Glorious Game" is now available to stream or purchase