HITS Daily Double


Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, The Roots’ de facto leader, is no stranger to Grammy nods, having been nominated 14 times with his group (and winning three).

This year the Philly native hit a career milestone when he was nominated as a solo artist, in the Best Rap Performance category for "Love Letter," his impassioned ode to hip-hop. Black Thought never imagined a spoken-word track devoid of a single beat would be the one to land him a solo nomination.

After all, he'd released a vault of solo music over the last few years, including 2022’s Cheat Codes with producer Danger Mouse and 2023’s Glorious Game. But in the 50th year of hip-hop, "Love Letter" hit differently. From mentions of Sugar Hill Records co-founder Sylvia Robinson and MC Sha-Rock to Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, Black Thought captures the culture’s evolution while showing off his lyrical prowess.

For some reason, he agreed to speak to HITS about his solo nomination and what the next 50 years of hip-hop might look like.

Where were you when you heard about your Grammy nomination and what was your reaction?

I don’t know where I was. I know I was at work, at a job. It’s dope. It’s always joy. It’s always great to be acknowledged and recognized, be it by my peers, the Academy or the community. It’s not about the trophy or the award for me as much as it is about the recognition and acknowledgement. It was something that, in all honesty, I never saw having legs in this way.

The idea was to pay homage to the culture and to what we do in hip-hop as the culture reached 50 years, but that was sort of it. So for me—as an artist who puts out lots of music and has an extensive body of work that’s all me singing songs and rapping over beats—to be nominated for my first sort of solo endeavor… this is my first Grammy nomination outside of The Roots capacity. For it to be spoken word and not a rap song, to be a capella, is huge to be in this category. It’s not like I’m up against other poets. I think that’s the accomplishment. The achievement lies in that I’m nominated for a Grammy in Best Rap Performance for a song that isn’t technically a rap or a song [laughs].

Would you say that’s why this nomination is particularly so meaningful, just because it’s so different?

Yeah, absolutely. Just a nomination for an OG is huge. It’s huge for people who really latched on to that piece and what I was really talking about and the people who I mentioned in the piece—it’s huge for the Sha-Rocks. That’s what I do. Any verse that I’m gonna put out, it’s going to be density-packed with information and as visual as possible. For me, that’s the award of it all.

Did you say everything you wanted to say about a culture that’s given you so much on “Love Letter?” If not, is there anything you’d want to add?

No, I definitely didn’t get to say everything. There’s never enough time or space to include everyone and everything, right? Not that I even remember or recall everyone and everything or everyone’s contribution, but there’s so much more than I do recall but because of those constraints, I’m not able to acknowledge. It’s in those moments that you make a creative decision and go with those bookends or you conjure up the most immediate memory, but then you also have to be considerate of the artists who never got the acknowledgement before. You want to have the opportunity to reintroduce an idea, a concept, person, place or thing to a new audience as well. This is all taken into consideration when you’re working on something like that. The whole vulnerability of it all, the nakedness of it all—it was just my voice. It’s an a capella performance. It was shot in such an intimate way. It wasn’t the most comfortable scenario for an introverted artist.

What’s the next 50 years of hip-hop look like?

I think it will probably continue to evolve, continue to emerge and we’re gonna see it represented in all these different sub-genres. Where it’s gonna go, where the production is going to go, where technology is going to take us is yet to be determined. But we’re in the middle of a revolution of sorts. This is a technological revolution, a renaissance that is taking place right now in real time, so it’s gonna be really interesting to see the way it plays out.

Will you be attending the Grammys next year?

Yes, I’m gonna go to the Grammys. We do a huge party every year the night before the Grammys whether we’re nominated or not.