El Michels Affair & Black Thought: Glorious Game (Big Crown) - review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Monday, February 26th, 2024  

El Michels Affair & Black Thought

Glorious Game

Big Crown

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It seems so obvious. Black Thought—a soulful, GOAT-discussion MC who feels right at home over live instrumentation after 30+ years with The Roots—links up with Wu-Tang-covering soul group El Michels Affair, helmed by original Dap-Kings member and prolific collaborator Leon Michels. It seems so obvious, in fact, that fears of well-trod cliché on such a project would be understandable. But as Glorious Game proves, sometimes it’s best not to overthink things. Sometimes it’s best to just delight in the work of artists who have definitely put in their 10,000 hours and still feel a visceral passion for this glorious game.

Glorious Game pays homage to hip-hop’s lineage of soul, funk, and boom-bap, such as on the title track where Black Thought flows across a woozy stream of bass and phasing drum fills. But he’s not interested in old-head Golden Age worship. Instead, Black Thought and R&B singer KIRBY maintain it’s up to us to recognize the “glory days” in the present moment, in the grind, in the excitement of the game.

Michels and company aren’t stuck in the past either, despite their ’70s-inspired sound. Some of the album’s most memorable moments come when the band’s original material—which is then chopped up and sampled—combines with other musical sources that recall Michels’ recent fascination with sounds from Turkey and India. The call-and-response vocal sample combined with spaced-out funk grooves on opener “Grateful” and the aggressively eerie vocal distortions on “Hollow Way” that could’ve come straight from Yeezus are brilliant curveballs that elevate the album’s more familiar musical passages.

In both the familiar and the unexpected, Black Thought is perfectly at ease. He finds ample room and inspiration in Michels’ thoughtful production to reflect on his life. On tempo-sliding track “The Weather,” Black Thought slows down, speeds up, jukes, and cuts like an NFL cornerback covering a wide receiver and never losing a step. All the while, he paints images of growing up in South Philly and concludes, “I wouldn’t change a thing if I could/What made me is everything/The bad, the ugly, the good.” Time and again, Black Thought finds that beautiful center, where soul marries technique rather than competes against it.

The hunt for that center is crucial to the glory of the game, whether hip-hop, life, or whatever. Ignore skill too much in favor of feeling, and you’ll never receive the prowess to pivot through the game’s obstacles. But lean too heavy on the technique, and you’ll forget the purpose in the first place and lose yourself in the process. After over 30 years in the midst of it, Black Thought shows he’s still zealous for the game, still sharpening his toolkit, still digging deeper into his glorious self. (www.bigcrownrecords.com/artists/el-michels-affair-black-thought/)

Author rating: 7.5/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10



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