Born Brian Burton, Danger Mouse is arguably one of the most versatile and prolific artists and producers in music right now: As an artist he’s one-half of Broken Bells and Gnarls Barkley and has recorded collaborative albums with Yeah Yeah Yeahs‘ Karen O and the late, legendary MF DOOM. As a producer, he’s worked with Adele, U2, The Black Keys, Gorillaz, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Michael Kiwanuka, Parquet Courts and a lengthy list of others.
Born Tariq Trotter, Black Thought is a co-founder and frontman of The Roots. Trotter is an accomplished solo artist who has released a critically applauded album and two EPs: 2020’s Streams of Thought Vol. 3: Cane & Abel and 2018’s Streams of Thought Vol. 1 EP and Streams of Thought Vol. 2 EP. While considered by the cognoscenti as one of the dopest emcees to ever do it, Trotter has also acted in film and theater. And has producer and writing credits.
Their long-awaited joint album together Cheat Codes is slated for an August 12, 2022 release through BMG. While Cheat Codes marks Danger Mouse’s first hip-hop album since 2005’s DANGERDOOM with MF and the follow-up to Black Thoughts’ solo trilogy Streams of Thought, their collaboration can be traced back almost almost 20 years: Trotter and Burton first met back in 2005. They started working on material — but time went on, life happened, other projects and obligations came up.
Following 2004’s The Grey Album, Burton became one of the most in-demand and prolific producers of the day, helming several commercially and critically successful projects, which led to a bevy of accolades and awards. He also developed collaborations with a unique and eclectic array of artists while expanding upon and honing his own musicianship, production and writing.
During that same period of time, The Roots released some critically applauded albums and became the house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon then The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Trotter released his aforementioned, critically applauded solo trilogy Streams of Thought. He collaborated with the likes of Eminem, John Legend, Pusha T., Griselda, and a list of others. He wrote, composed and starred in the widely-praised off Broadway show Black No More. And adding to a lengthy list of accomplishments, he co-produced a TV series with his Roots bandmate Questlove.
Each mistakenly thought that the other had moved on and their collaboration just died, but as it turned out neither ever stopped wanting to work together. Burton felt an instinctive pull to go back to his roots and make a timeless hip-hop album. He knew that Trotter was the only emcee capable of fulfilling that vision. Simultaneously, Trotter was seeking a space, where he could express himself musically and creatively beyond the confines and structures of his own band.
This time, Burton was a far more seasoned songwriter and producer, Trotter an even more extraordinary emcee. So, setting aside all distractions, Burton played Trotter some new music he had had. The ideas and words quickly flowed — and the experience was liberating.
Meticulously built over a period of several years, Cheat Codes reportedly finds Burton pushing widescreen, soul-infused hip-hop soundscapes to new directions paired with Trotter’s commanding presence, incisive lyricism and dexterous wordplay. Unlike the typical producer-meets-rapper/side project, Cheat Codes is an effort between two like-minded collaborators, who raise each other’s games to new heights.
Cheat Codes‘ first single “No Gold Teeth” is centered around a warm and dusty old school, psychedelic soul production that to my ears is a slick synthesis of RZA, Pete Rock, and DJ Premier. The production serves as a lush bed for Black Thought’s rapid fire, lyrical deluge. This is that real hip-hop: dope emcees spitting flames over dope beats.
Directed by UNCANNY, the UK-based creative duo of George Muncey and Elliot Elder, the accompanying video is a hypnotic and mind-bending collage of machine learning-created images superimposed over Black Thought’s head.