Black Thought - Streams of Thought Vol. 3: Cane & Able (Republic)

Black Thought – Streams of Thought Vol. 3: Cane & Able (Republic)

Streams of Thought volumes 1 and 2 were exceptional.  Two 2018 conscious hip hop EPs which housed material that sounded like it had been waiting forever to work itself out of Black Thought’s system.  Every verse was desperate to escape his mouth.  His concise, blunt and punchy rhythms whipped through the records – he got through reams of lyrics whilst making it all sound dead simple.  Both releases had different producers, giving them distinct tones, this trend has continued on volume 3 with Sean Cane taking on production duties. 

Unlike the previous two releases this is a fully fledged album packed with eye popping feature artists.  ‘Good Morning’ alone has three heavyweights: Pusha T, Swizz Beats and Killer Mike from Run the Jewels.  It is a huge, highly energetic single shooting for the same vibe Kayne West achieved with Kids See Ghosts.  Despite being the blockbuster single from this release it doesn’t set the vibe for the overall LP.  The production of ‘Magnificent’ has a very different, looser approach with a noodling bassline and light percussion.  Oddly, Black Thought does not adapt his performance to accommodate this, still rapping with maximum force. 

Putting partial responsibility for the quality of your project into the hands of features doesn’t always pay off.  Indie rock band Portugal. The Man brings a lame quality to the songs they sit across that overwhelms Black Thought and Sean Cane’s contributions.  It comes off as the sort of chaff that would line nameless Spotify summer chill out playlists and interrupts the vibe of the overall project.  Their singing is consistently grating.  ‘Nature of the Beast’ has some particularly cheesy lines from Black Thought to compliment this.  “Breaking through it all never crossed our minds and greatness is withering on the vine.”  These three cuts feel separate from the album as a whole, perhaps they should have been an EP of their own. 

The neo-soul ‘We Could Be Good (United)’ ups this releases’ level of cheese with the worst lyrics Black Thought has ever dreamed up.  “No one can always be kissin’ under the mistletoe/ eventually you’ll be sendin’ each other missiles and wonderin’ just where this will go.”  Unlike the 2018 EPs he sounds totally uncomfortable and out of his zone.  The retro, soul choruses, much like the indie rock ones, just seem to be ticking a vibe box rather than coming from a spark of spontaneous creative energy.

The flow on ‘State Prisoner’  is bold and bolshy but it takes half of the track to get into its stride and build up momentum.  This is due to a low key bridge which comes in a third of the way through the track.  ‘Steak Um’ with ScHoolboy Q has a passive aggressive feel which occasionally boils over into something more overtly vengeful.  The production has a straightforward, atmospheric approach which lets the performances shine.  The best single of this release is clearly ‘Thought vs Everybody’, another where Black Thought goes it alone and summarises the state of things in 2020’s America.  It is a rare moment where the production lines up perfectly with Thought’s relentless, stream of consciousness style of lyricism. 

Despite being pitched as an album, the uneven flow from song to song and totally distinct personalities of each cut makes Streams of Thought Vol. 3 feel more like a mixtape – and not a great one.  It is a disappointing full length follow up the two flawless EPs that kicked off this project.

Streams of Thought Vol. 3: Cane & Able is out now on Republic.

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