The Kennedy Center

Black Thought


Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter aka Bad Lieutenant, Big Bank Willie Gank, and ‘Riq Geez Born October 3, 1972. is the MC of the Philadelphia-based hip hop group The Roots. Although nowhere near the most popular performer in hip-hop, Black Thought and The Roots have a solid and devoted following. Thought, who co-founded The Roots with drummer ?uestlove (Ahmir Thompson), is widely lauded for his lyrics’ political bent, lyrical complexity, and his live performances.

Tariq and ?uest met in the Philadelphia High School for Creative Performing Arts, and formed a drummer/MC duo performing on the streets of Philly and at talent shows. Thought would subsequently spend some time as one of two MCs in the group The Square Roots: the other one was Malik B.

A name change (to simply The Roots) and an album release (Organix) Black Thought and Malik struck a balance, with Malik bringing more personal raps and Thought oriented more towards a more political style infused with battle raps.

After Malik B. left the group due to drug issues, Thought continued drifting toward the political, and was featured on several other records like Common’s One Day it’ll All Make Sense, Linkin Park’s Reanimation and more recently its frontman Mike Shinoda’s The Rising Tied, as well as Damian Marley’s Welcome to Jamrock and The Coup’s Pick a Bigger Weapon.

Black Thought was in the process of recording a solo album, but the project was shelved when it was realized the effort would not assist the group in their release from their contract with MCA Records. Some of the songs he had recorded were eventually released as tracks on The Roots’ album Phrenology. He is working on a collaborative project with producer Danger Mouse (which, according to XXL magazine, is tentatively being called Dangerous Thoughts), as well as a Gangsta Grillz mixtape with DJ Drama. He is still a core member of The Roots. He has also been a member of two production teams, Grand Negaz and The Grand Wizzards.

The Roots latest album Game Theory shows a more introspective side of Black Thought and is the “darkest” Roots album to date. 

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Watch Past Performances


Youth Speaks, in collaboration with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Millennium Stage, present an evening to celebrate the winners of the national spoken word competition designed to foster discussion among young people and adults about the challenges and opportunities students face as they strive to stay on the path to graduation. Hosted by D.C. hip-hop artist Gabriel “Asheru” Benn, the program will feature performances from each of the five winners, plus an appearance by DJ Questlove and Black Thought, NPR’s Glynn Washington, and Hill Harper.  The RAISE Up project is part of American Graduate - Let's Make It Happen! - a public media initiative to address the drop out crisis, supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  Free general admission tickets will be distributed in the Hall of Nations starting at approximately 4:30 p.m., up to 2 tickets per person.

Black Thought