Danger Mouse & Black Thought: Cheat Codes (BMG) | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Danger Mouse & Black Thought

Cheat Codes


Aug 08, 2022 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Brian Joseph Burton, also known as Danger Mouse, has been a prominent producer for the past two decades. He began his career in hip-hop, gaining notoriety with 2003’s Ghetto Pop Life and 2004’s The Grey Album, a controversial, yet visionary record that mashed-up vocals from Jay-Z’s The Black Album with instrumentals from The Beatles’ self-titled album (aka The White Album). He was also producing for Danger Doom, a hip-hop project with rapper MF Doom. Their seminal album The Mouse and the Mask effortlessly paired beats with rhymes, sampling from various Cartoon Network Adult Swim television shows. Burton would then go on to explore other genres and styles, producing for the likes of Gorillaz, Beck, The Black Keys, and Adele.

At the same time, Tariq Trotter, who goes by the moniker Black Thought, was rapping as the lead MC for the hip-hop band The Roots and became well-known for his complex lyricism and multisyllabic rhyme schemes. Shortly after the release of The Grey Album, Burton and Trotter linked up. The pair started working on tracks together, but they never finished the project—The Roots were busy going back and forth between recording and touring while Burton was collaborating with CeeLo Green in the soul duo Gnarls Barkley.

Reconnecting in 2017, the pair finally completed the record. Their album, Cheat Codes, is a throwback to the golden age of hip-hop where rapper-producer duos like Erik B & Rakim and Gang Starr were at the top of their game. The structure of the album is straightforward with a foundation of samples pulled from Burton’s vast catalog. These samples often act in conversation with Trotter such as in the opener, “Sometimes,” which takes a passage out of “Love Without Sex” by Gwen McCrae and weaves it into the rapper’s verses. Burton’s beats typically take a backseat, showcasing Trotter’s rapping. However, the instrumentals occasionally work against Trotter such as in “No Gold Teeth,” which drowns out his lyrics in bass. The production may also sound one-note at times with the tracks rarely progressing, instead content to maintain the same intensity throughout.

Lyrically, there’s no overarching concept to the record with the album instead acting as a collection of Trotter’s observations of the world around him. In the title track, “Cheat Codes,” Trotter explores how “Blackness is not a monolith” and the “glass ceiling” that prevents Black Americans from making any progress. The record is at its strongest when the production and rap delivery are synergistically in tune with each other. This is most present in the single “Aquamarine,” which gives off a vintage feel with Michael Kiwanuka and Trotter flowing perfectly with Burton’s beats.
Although the project is mainly a partnership between Burton and Trotter, it also boasts a diverse cast of features. There are appearances from veterans such as Raekwon and Run the Jewels as well as verses from young rappers Joey Bada$$, Russ, and Dylan Cartlidge. But perhaps the most anticipated feature comes from the late MF DOOM on “Belize.” It sees the enigmatic rapper at his best with witty wordplay in his characteristic raspy baritone. It’s evident that the producer-rapper duo complement each other’s work and by featuring other artists, elevate the rappers around them. Because of this, Cheat Codes isn’t just an album for old hip-hop heads – it’s a timeless record that celebrates all artists. (www.dangermouseblackthought.com)

Author rating: 7.5/10

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