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Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter’s voice has been ringing out on records since 1987. A founding member and lead MC of Philadelphia’s legendary The Roots crew, Trotter is known for commanding the microphone in a way that few can. His all-in-one bag of technical dexterity, booming voice, and sharp wit makes his social commentary just as potent as his braggadocios bars. He’s the kind of artist who can lead The Roots on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and then turn around and drop a Funkmaster Flex freestyle that your favorite rapper tweets about. It’s this combination that also made him the perfect candidate to perform a spoken-word piece last week at Reebok’s Spoken Rights event, the beginning of a revival of the Human Rights Now! campaign.
Originally held in 1988 through a partnership with Reebok, the Human Rights Now! concert featured some of the era’s biggest names including Bruce Springsteen, Sting, and Tracy Chapman. The nonprofit initiative was intended to bring attention to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the internationally recognized document that enshrines rights and freedoms to all human beings, as well as the organization Amnesty International.
For 2021, Reebok is bringing back the Human Rights Now! concept with a new collection of sneakers and apparel including the Classic Leather and Club C, a $270,000 donation to RISE (a nonprofit that aims to improve race relations within the sports community), and the return of the Reebok Human Rights Award Program honoring young human rights activists. The brand kicked things off last Friday in Brooklyn with the Spoken Rights event.
We caught up with Trotter shortly after his performance to get his thoughts on the Human Rights Now! revival, his approach to collaborations, how The Roots would fare in a Verzuz, and more. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, appears below.