Album review: Blackroc - 'Blakroc' (V2/Cooperative)
The Black Keys team up with rap's big names for a pretty sweet collaboration
Since [a]The Black Keys[/a] worked with [a]Danger Mouse[/a] 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 [a]Joker’s Daughter[/a]. Grubby guitar-crankers The Black Keys, meanwhile, now lend their services only to gold-plated superstars such as ZZ Top. Now, with [a]Blakroc[/a], 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, [a]Dan Auerbach[/a] 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 [b]‘Blakroc’[/b] 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 [a]Ol’ Dirty Bastard[/a] (whose presence gives the lie to claims that everything was recorded live in 11 days) and [a]Ludacris[/a]’ [b]‘Coochie’[/b], a track that had already appeared on mixtapes, gets a swampy recast. And while ODB’s spluttering doesn’t reach the “[i]Yo, I’m the cunt breath asshole eater[/i]” 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. [a]Mos Def[/a]’s loping gait is something to cherish in [b]‘On The Vista’[/b], while [a]Q-Tip[/a] offers a sweet riposte to Billy Danze’s aggressive spitting and the Keys’ blues fizz on [b]‘Hope You’re Happy’[/b]. [a]Raekwon[/a]’s [b]‘Stay Off The Fuckin’ Flowers’[/b] cruises like a late-night soundtrack to ’60s Memphis, [a]RZA[/a] 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 “[i]lavish bitches[/i]”, and a few songs feel more like sketches, but bad hip-rock memories such as that wank-off between [a]30 Seconds To Mars[/a] and [a]Kanye West[/a] will still be effectively erased by Blakroc’s gritty gumbo.
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