Review: Cheat Codes–Black Thought and Danger

4.5/5 Falcons

Benny Ross, Contributing Writer

What happens when one of the greatest, most underrated MCs ever collaborates with a genius producer who has the crate-digging sensibilities of the old school? The answer is Cheat Codes, a partnership between Black Thought and Danger Mouse, which was over a decade in the making. On Cheat Codes, Black Thought, one of the frontmen of the legendary group The Roots (now best known as the house band of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon), delivers intelligent yet hardcore verses, each bursting with clever punchlines that leave the listener thinking. Behind Black Thoughts’ masterful rhymes is the brilliant, sample-heavy production of Danger Mouse, who rose to fame with The Gray Album, a mashup of music from Jay-Z and The Beatles.

There are few, if any, skippable moments.

The very first song of the album,“Sometimes,” on which Black Thought raps about everything from Azkaban to Dapper Dan over soulful production sets the tone for the album: there are few, if any, skippable moments. However, the album really shines with its many features, which see Black Thought spitting alongside legendary MCs like Raekwon and MF Doom.
Three songs in particular, “The Darkest Part,” “Because,” and “Belize,” are some of the album’s best. On “The Darkest Part,” Black Thought and New York legend Raekwon drop thoughtful verses about racism in America over a beat based around a melancholy piano loop (which kind of sounds like something RZA would make). “Because,” featuring Joey Bada$$ and Russ, has some of the best bars of the whole album: “State’s evidence, give us anything instead of this drama / In the mirror like Yayoi Kusama,” and also has an incredibly catchy hook. Probably the most talked about song on the album, “Belize” features a posthumous MF Doom verse, which was recorded during a session with Danger Mouse, following the pair’s 2005 album The Mouse and The Mask. More than any other on the album, the beat on “Belize” sounds very similar to those on the 2005 album. As always, Doom delivers straight heat, and Black Thought also drops a verse chock-full of interesting references: “F**k a thick skin, I got me a exoskeleton / The Black Colin Farrell in The Lobster.” Other awesome cuts from the album include “Saltwater,” featuring Griselda rapper Conway the Machine, as well as the incredibly smooth “Violas and Lupitas,” which concludes the album.
My one criticism of the album would be that the incredible diversity and obscurity of the references in Black Thought’s rhymes is a curse as well as a blessing. While impressive, some of his rhymes just leave me confused (even after checking Genius). However, when the only issue with an album is that the lyrics are too sophisticated, it must be pretty good. Overall, I think Cheat Codes is an amazing album, especially for 1990’s Hip Hop fans, and the best Hip Hop album of 2022.

This article also appears in our September 2022 print edition.