Album review: Blackroc - 'Blakroc' (V2/Cooperative)

The Black Keys team up with rap's big names for a pretty sweet collaboration

Since The Black Keys worked with Danger Mouse on their last album, ‘Attack & Release’, it’s fair to say their paths have diverged.

Mr Mouse – king of the unexpected collaboration, sometimes confused with King Midas – is no longer ‘Crazy’ famous. Instead, he’s stepped back from big-name collaborations and busied himself crafting noir-ish, scary Americana with Sparklehorse and David Lynch or paying tribute to Merlin with little-known songwriter Helena Costas in the whimsical folk outfit Joker’s Daughter. Grubby guitar-crankers The Black Keys, meanwhile, now lend their services only to gold-plated superstars such as ZZ Top. Now, with Blakroc, a project initiated by rapper Jim Jones and produced
by one-time Roc-A-Fella head honcho Damon Dash, they’ve lured a roll-call of hip-hop’s most revered to their party.

In the video ‘webisodes’ that trailed this rock-rap conflab, the Keys looked like nervous year sevens trying to ingratiate themselves with tuff, green-puffing hippety-hoppers. But if they’re not so good at talking the talk, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have brought game, and it turns out they’re every bit as good at this rock/rap genre-bending malarkey as their former rodenty pal. With their hands on the tiller they steer ‘Blakroc’ clear of bombastic, Page-and-Diddy-style rap-metal, providing Dash’s MCs with a slinky, groovy, maxi-fuzzed blues rock to match their swagger.

The album opens with an early highpoint, as the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard (whose presence gives the lie to claims that everything was recorded live in 11 days) and Ludacris‘Coochie’, a track that had already appeared on mixtapes, gets a swampy recast. And while ODB’s spluttering doesn’t reach the “Yo, I’m the cunt breath asshole eater” levels of disturbia of which he was capable, the track still drips with juice as the Keys’ southern boogie substitutes perfectly for the original’s crunk.

The album feels genuinely organic, a common ground of moods rather than a forced fusion. Mos Def’s loping gait is something to cherish in ‘On The Vista’, while Q-Tip offers a sweet riposte to Billy Danze’s aggressive spitting and the Keys’ blues fizz on ‘Hope You’re Happy’. Raekwon’s ‘Stay Off The Fuckin’ Flowers’ cruises like a late-night soundtrack to ’60s Memphis, RZA is pin-sharp, Jim Jones sounds more stoned than Dan’s gloaming, cyclical riffs and Nikki Wray’s soul-wail tempts future collaborations between her and the Keys.

Sure, there’s the odd clichéd rap about cribs, glocks and “lavish bitches”, and a few songs feel more like sketches, but bad hip-rock memories such as that wank-off between 30 Seconds To Mars and Kanye West will still be effectively erased by Blakroc’s gritty gumbo.

Chris Parkin

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Click here to get your copy of 'Blakroc' with exclusive bonus disc from the Rough Trade shop

7 / 10

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