Roots vocalist Tariq Trotter, AKA Black Thought, recently sat down with the New York Times for a wide-ranging interview discussing everything from his favorite Philadelphia barbers to the time he burned down his family’s house as a youngster growing up in Mount Airy.
As Trotter told the Times, burning down the his family once lived in is one of his earliest memories. He was 6 at the time, and had a habit of burning off the limbs of plastic green army men to “make it seem like they were wounded.”
In one incident, however, Trotter said the “lighter got too hot,” causing him to throw it against some curtains, causing a fire:
My brother Keith, who was 14 years old, and my mom’s boyfriend were downstairs, and they smelled smoke. They called the Fire Department, and my mom’s boyfriend took me with him to pick up my mom from her doctor’s appointment. My brother waited for the Fire Department.
The incident, Trotter said, resulted in his brother being arrested after fighting with firemen who he accused of destroying furniture and stealing jewelry. The Roots emcee added that the event likely put his brother on a path that lead in and out of prison:
When we got back, the fire had been extinguished, but my brother had accused a few of the firemen of pocketing some jewelry and smashing some framed family pictures on the floor. My brother also said some of the firemen had destroyed some furniture that had no fire damage at all. One of the firemen got in my brother’s face and threatened him, and another swung on my brother. My brother fought back, and he was arrested.
That day was a turning point not just for me, not just for my family because of the fire, but that was the day my brother was arrested for the first time. He has been in and out of jail ever since.
Trotter also discussed the murder of his mother, who was killed when the rapper was just 16 years old (his father, meanwhile, was killed before Trotter turned one). As the rapper explains, his mother was addicted to crack cocaine at the time, and regularly went “AWOL for a day.”
After his mother once went missing for an entire week, Trotter told the Times, his family began calling jails and hospitals. They eventually found a woman in the morgue who matched her description, and the woman later turned out to be Trotter’s mother after dental records were used to verify her identity.
Trotter’s mother had been stabbed to death, the victim of “a 22-year-old dude who lived a few blocks away” from her in Southwest Philly, police would later learn.
“He was arrested and was supposed to have gotten the death penalty, but then through some clerical error, there was almost a mistrial and he had to be tried again,” Black Thought told the Times. “He was found guilty again in the second trial, and he is serving a life sentence.”
Trotter added that the incident, while tragic, inspired him to be resilient and pursue music, causing “that tragic experience [to] become a positive motivation.”
“I said to myself: ‘I’m going to win, and I’m going to be a success,’” Trotter said. “My mom would want me to achieve greatness in life.”