El Michels Affair and Black Thought – Glorious Game: Review

As with any new album or collaboration album by Black Thought, there is an expectancy for greatness behind the microphone, and that’s no mistake, as Thought is one of the most consistent rappers. His ear for production has stayed so; last year was with Danger Mouse, and in 2023, with El Michels Affair, a group led by multi-instrumentalist Leon Michels, on Glorious Game. It’s easy to create dialogue about the music and the effervescent lyricism since Black Thought can turn varying content & themes and flip them into these auspicious songs which embolden their surroundings, allowing the listener to hear and see the bigger picture. With production from El Michels Affair, the soundscape mirrors the atmospheric notion of intimate shows, where the occasional crowd is heard in reprises, through cheers and claps, to bring these notions to life, especially as the flows come more tempered and retrospective. It’s more soulful and jazzy, giving the listener these rich layers to dissect what gets heard due to fluid post-production mixing that fleshes these songs further, even if it doesn’t have a total oomph factor.

Glorious Game differs from past collaborations, where Black Thought used producers that are antiquated within the world of Hip-Hop, except they haven’t lost their footing. Beyond the live instrumentation production, what separates the production of El Michels Affair from others is their consistent shift in focus in which instrument gets a significant boost. It’s not like the behind-the-board producers who balance the technical side with some live creations to fine-tune a balance with the sonic components – Salaam Remi’s unique string orchestration on Streams Of Thought, Vol. 2 or Sean C and LV’s gritty musical world-building. As the album continues on repeat, you hear this blissful equilibrium that keeps you centered and focused on both, even through the simpler moments like with “Alone,” where the production comes in louder than the vocalist, feeling off-kilter to the senses. However, they create these unique compositions that shift from the dense “Protocol” to the purposeful “Hollow Way,” where the percussion’s character is louder despite coming behind the strength of Thought’s voice. Going through the album, you hear the seamless harmony of the flows with the production.

It isn’t as grand, levying more tempered sounds that feel like Black Thought is working the slight antithesis of The Roots’ more provocative and loud; El Michels Affair is less ingrained in artistic grandeur and more tepid within its tempos. It lets Thought’s lyrics guide through on top of the instrumental–heavy clouds finding ways to make a stamp with his words, like the ferocity on “The Weather.” It’s like coasting on cloud nine as Black Thought flows with a beautiful cadence in his voice, where no word feels weirdly enunciated to force a rhyme. Each time, Black Thought finds new degrees to retread familiar content, but his sense of originality keeps you interested through the words he spits, like his flexing on “Glorious Game.” For some, it can be something to swiftly tune out as there are few moments where Thought placates his more focused demeanor to continue his expansive and tempered delivery. 

Though Black Thought’s lyricism is astute, some may not find his flexing as refreshing, but more importantly, the shift between the dualities. With “That Girl” and “Miracle,” Black Thought becomes keen on reflecting on a relationship with a significant other; however, as the production and vocals mold, the former turns to the most interesting of the two, even with similar flow and instrumental tempos. It’s as much about the content as the delivery, and it’s harder to when it runs 12 tracks, 32 minutes, but it doesn’t feel as such. It feels like a swift EP that’s not as satisfying as you finish the run without realizing it has done so. It grooves through vast introspections and reflections; I yearned for more as the music continued to feel more compositely streamlined, where it’s hard to find something more than the expectancy. Black Thought brings a lot to the fray as his writing takes interesting turns through distinct metaphors and wordplay, but there are two times it isn’t as powerful. With “I’m Still Somehow,” it feels like Thought is just flowing off a paper, losing any sense of emotional gravitas, while “Alone” can’t seem to find an agreement between production and vocals. 

These detractors pushed me from loving this album to the levels of Cheat Codes with Danger Mouse or Streams Of Thought, Vol. 1 with 9th Wonder & Khrysis, but there is still enough fantastic work to keep in the loop. The lyrics are raw, and the production quality remains as consistent as ever, keeping your ears ingrained to beats as they flood through your headphones. Though it’s lesser than some other projects, that doesn’t mean much when you get quality consistently from both artists. Highly recommend the album, even if it isn’t as profound, you’re bound to find songs to enjoy fully.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

One thought on “El Michels Affair and Black Thought – Glorious Game: Review

  1. Classic!!! The more I listen to it! I understand and love more! El Michel Affair is my band! And to find out they collaborate with my fav Rapper! Gtfoh! Lol “Classic” 10!


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