Legendary rapper Black Thought bared his soul through a love letter to hip-hop as a part of BET’s 50th anniversary of hip-hop programming. In the four-and-a-half minute spoken word, the Roots rapper and co-founder lays out a comprehensive history detailing hip-hop culture’s impact on a multitude of creative spaces including dance, art, music and fashion across the globe.
Guiding listeners through a half-century of hip-hop, Black Thought pays homage to cultural pillars such as Grandmaster Flash, first female rapper Sha-Rock and hip-hop “godmother” Sylvia Robinson, in addition to fashion architects Dapper Dan and June Ambrose. He seamlessly references turntable play with the line, “One topic of discussion was whose hands were faster,” effortlessly flowing into bars about graffiti tags and the evolution of hip-hop in New York City.
“Cold blooded, no budget but we became raw to end the gang wars, what we started this thang for,” he raps of the genre’s roots, going on to unpack the explosion of hip-hop into a full-fledged global movement through early foundational contributions by groups including Public Enemy and Tribe Called Quest and later expansions by artists and entrepreneurs Jay-Z, Pharrell, Drake and Kanye West.
The poem later touches on identity and the struggle for Black and brown genre pioneers to be accepted into the mainstream. Now that they are, Black Thought stresses the importance of not losing sight of their roots. The Benny Boom-directed black-and-white video features breakdancers interspersed with Black Thought himself and visuals of genre greats such as Nipsey Hussle, Common, NWA and Salt-N-Pepa, and iconic locations including Harlem’s Apollo Theater and Detroit’s 8 Mile Road.
“From here looking back, I say we did it, we made it, they hate it and said we were over and gone. I feel it’s the move to say we proved all of them wrong,” Black Thought raps. “Fifty years down the line we could spark this, my eternal beloved hip-hop is where our hearts live.”
The artist and network also shared a clip on Instagram, captioning a joint post: “This is Part 2 of our Love Letter to Hip Hop and if you’re not keeping up, I need you to. We hit up @blackthought to pen a tribute to Hip Hop as we celebrate its 50th and of course, the pen is ridiculous.”