Rap and Rock have a troubled history together. Whilst Run DMC and Aerosmith may have managed to pull off a mildly cringe-worthy duet on Walk This Way, the majority of this grim hybrid have ended up sounding horribly juvenile, managing somehow to omit positive qualities of both genres entirely (see: Limp Bizkit, The Bloodhound Gang and Kid Rock.) The Beastie Boys’ rocky backing tracks may have elevated their witty lyricism to classic status, and Rage Against The Machine’s combination of driving riffs and political rap is regarded by most as the pinnacle of this dualism, but no rap-rock project as of yet has managed to capture the tone and feel of old-school Hip-Hop and the raw energy of Rock music in an entirely effective way.
Enter Blakrok. Produced by Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records Co-Founder Damon Dash, Blakroc’s eponymous debut is an immaculate fusion of tight lyricism, soulful blues and originality. Whilst the combination of Ohio based Blues duo The Black Keys with a plethora of Hip-Hop’s biggest stars may scream ‘gimmick’ at the top of it’s lungs, Blakroc quickly dismisses with this notion and establishes itself as one of the most exciting things to happen in Hip-Hop in recent years.
The Black Keys’ trademark stripped down, fuzzy blues and stomping drums instill every track with an aggressive, soulful feel that immediately distinguishes Blakroc from the slew of commerical chart hip-hop rife in mainstream music. As indeed does the sheer quality of the contributions provided by the variety of Hip-Hop luminaries. Mos Def shines through with soulful verse and subtle delivery in his track On The Vista and also whilst backing Jim Jones’ smooth, steady lyricism on Ain’t Nothing Like You – a deep, strutting, titan of a song, powered forward by Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney’s thumping rhythms and Dan Auerbach’s drawling, mournful backing vocals.
Nicole Wray’s strong, sorrowful vocals wind through the arrogant strut of Hope You’re Happy (with MOP’s Billy Danze at his posturing, aggressive best) and turn the track Why Can’t I Forget Him into 4 minutes of paranoid urban blues. Even NOE’s Jay-Z-a-like vocal delivery is allowed to shine on Hard Times, where wailing falsetto vocals and distorted, powerful bass push his contribution onwards into an amalgamation of Depression-era blues and Hendrix-esque groove.
With many other impressive appearances from RZA, Q-Tip, Raekwon and Pharoah Monche, vocals from the Hip-Hop elite here are nearly all on top form. The only real weak vocal offering comes from Ludacris on opening track Coochie, where performing alongside vocals from the deceased Ol’ Dirty Bastard he sounds misplaced – over-modern and hackneyed in an album full of tracks steeped in fresh-but-vintage tones.
A genuine shot of adrenaline to the heart of mainstream Hip-Hop’s bloated, stagnant mass, Blakroc’s debut album is an unmissable album of top quality collaborations, and whilst this particular effort nearly justifies the concept of rap-rock, it is unlikely that it would be even half as successful if another band substituted their sound for the gritty vocals and thumping, distorted blues of The Black Keys.
Blakroc’s Self-Titled Debut Album is released Friday November 27th. Pre-order it Here