Black Thought freestyles on Funkmaster Flex’s Hot 97 show; Photo: Hot 97/YouTube


On December 14th Black Thought appeared on Funkmaster Flex’s Hot 97 radio show and delivered what is now considered to be one of the greatest recorded freestyles of all time.

The response since then has been overwhelming, some pontiffs crowning him as the G.O.A.T. or at least including him in the conversation. As a gift, Jimmy Fallon printed out the entire freestyle which was nearly 10 minutes long and included over 2,000 words.

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone Black Thought was asked about the line “Can’t explain what these lame kids are talkin’ ’bout,” which many took as a shot at the mumble rap generation. Black Thought was quick to dismiss the claim, even going as far as saying that he invented mumble rap.

“There’s a whole element of artists that I can’t explain what they’re talking about,” Black Thought told Rolling Stone. “And it’s not just because of their stylistic approach with the whole ‘mumble rap’. Lots of people are saying that I shut down mumble rap in one 10-minute setting. But that wasn’t my intention, because mumble rap – if we go back – that’s something I invented. I invented rapping without actually using the words. … [W]ith songs like ‘Don’t Say Nuthin’,’ freestyles like ‘New Year’s At Jay Dee’s,’ I essentially invented mumble rap, where you go for many bars without saying any words. And when I did it, it came from a place of being inspired by scatting.”

In the hook to “Don’t Say Nuthin’” Black Thought is clearly mumbling, which does add some credibility to what he’s saying. Black Thought, however, is quick to explain that it is still very different from what the current generation is doing.

“It’s definitely different. I hate to keep using the term evolution, but I feel like it has evolved. The same way that all other pop culture has evolved into what we now know it, so has the music. Art, politics, everything must change, and everything has changed. But there’s a way to embrace change and still appreciate and incorporate elements of the foundation from which it came.”

In the interview Black Thought also addresses whether or not his performance was an actual freestyle. He explains that the term “freestyle” has changed since he was a coming up as a lyricist. In his day it meant having to improvise the entire effort. Now, it’s different. Not as sink or swim, but still respectable depending on how the artist tailors it.

“If I were on Stretch & Bobbito back in the day, like when I would go to their radio show and freestyle, everything had to be completely off the top,” explained Black Thought. “And, you know, I’m able to do that with the best of them. But in order to say what is needed, to get a rise out of young audiences, the 18-to-25s. …You know, I have a couple of boys who are 17, 18 years old…and in order to get that sort of response from them, it has to be a combination [of improvisation and pre-written]. There has to be a research element involved. No public speaker or stand-up comedian, I mean, there’s no one who’s going to give a speech completely off the top without having worked on the beats, and how you’re going to say what it is that you’re saying, or worked on the tone.”

Black Thought’s claim he invented mumble rap may be a stretch. After all he did say it was a form of scatting, which can be traced back several decades before “Don’t Say Nuthin’.” But it is notable that he wasn’t looking to dismiss the younger generation (which has been a hot button topic as of late), but rather bridge the gap instead; explaining that lyricism is a tradition with different styles and values and fundamentally they all come from the same lineage.

If readers pull anything away from the interview it’s that in addition to being a fresh lyricist Black Thought is also a teacher, historian and ambassador for hip-hop culture.

Listen to the freestyle on Hot 97 again, below: