Last Week, Black Thought set the rap internet on fire when he blazed a ten-minute master class in improvised rap over the instrumental to Mobb Deep’s “Burn” on Hot 97’s Funkmaster Flex show. The freestyle garnered over 1.2 million plays in just three days, shooting to the top of Twitter’s trending topics, and becoming one of the most shared Funk Flex freestyles of the dozens posted by Hot 97 this year, on pace to knock off every other 2017 freestyle by the end of the month as the most-viewed on Youtube.
Spawning a variety of new reaction memes based on Flex’s bemused expressions and sparking passionate discussion about both Black Thought’s deserved placement on a rap Mount Rushmore of greatest rappers of all time, the freestyle also resulted in the frontman for The Hardest-Working Band In Show Business temporarily trading his position on The Tonight Show‘s bandstand for one on the guest couch where host Jimmy Fallon grilled him about his impressive ability to extemporize raps so crisply for so long.
The freestyle was partly in response to Myles Johnson’s Uproxx essay titled “What Is Jimmy Fallon’s Political Silence Costing The Roots?,” where Johnson argued that the host’s apolitical stance has had a detrimental effect on Black Thought and The Roots’ political stances (as his backing band) in a mainstream context. Basically, that by giving them one of the most popular platforms, Fallon could have helped them promote their social justice causes in front of an audience of millions; instead, he’s got Black Thought wasting his prodigious talents by rhyming about in-studio audience members’ favorite seasons. While there is certainly a time and place for the fun and games, the complete absence of any type of protest in the face of current political events, where human rights are being traded away for commercial interests seemingly every day, feels downright irresponsible.
The Funk Flex appearance should have been Thought’s definitive word on any number of social issues, from police brutality to net neutrality, but the problem is one of scale. Yes, he proved once again that he is a master of wordplay, rhyme, rhythm, breath control, and staying firmly on topic despite improvising for the ten minutes worth of gasp-inducing punchlines and immaculate flow — but the hip-hop world already knows he can do these things. The message is important, but it’s being delivered to an audience that never needed convincing in the first place. In short, the political themes and messages of that freestyle really need to be on The Tonight Show, not on Funk Flex, if they are to ever have the desired effect of making America take stock of its positions and affect true change.