A surprisingly compelling and welcome rejoining of the rap and rock worlds.
Nick Neyland 2009
Rap and rock don’t always make easy bedfellows, and the combination of the two genres has mostly produced a case of ever-diminishing returns over the years. It all started so well, with Run DMC and the Beastie Boys successfully melding giant riffs with ingenious rhymes. But in 2009, the most talked-about rap/rock alliance is Lil Wayne’s Rebirth, which has been delayed and rescheduled by a record company who appear to have got cold feet over the whole idea.
So it’s with some trepidation that anyone will approach Blakroc, a brief blast into the rap/rock world from Akron two-piece The Black Keys. Their savvy move was hiring Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella partner Damon Dash to help with the project – he enlivened the 11-day recording sessions in New York by bringing RZA, Raekwon, Mos Def and Ol’ Dirty Bastard on board, the latter appearing from beyond the grave.
ODB gets the album off to a fine start, alongside Ludacris, on Coochie, full of vast, echoed drums and an infectious treated guitar line. Mos Def has plenty of experience working with live bands and sounds like the most comfortable performer here on the straightforward blues jam On the Vista, but the album works best when Timbaland-inspired odd noises and circuitous loops are stirred into the mix. The best example of this is Pharoahe Monch/RZA effort Dollaz & Sense, which is played out to a heavily tremolo’d guitar riff that bounces all over the track.
The key template of Patrick Carney’s cavernous drum sound and thick, raw, overdriven guitar noise from Dan Auerbach remain a constant throughout, but the band also introduce other influences. Hard Times pulls hard on a whistling riff that could have been lifted straight from Harlem River Drive’s Idle Hands, and Nicole Wray’s soulful Why Can’t I Forget Him, delivered over squelching wah-ed out guitar, is a welcome diversion from the norm.
It doesn’t always work – RZA’s Tellin’ Me Things veers too far in the direction of uncomplicated, clumpy rock, sounding like an off-cut from Mos Def’s The Ecstatic – in this writer’s opinion, something of a misstep. But for the most part this is a surprisingly compelling and welcome rejoining of the rap and rock worlds that successfully captures the off-the-cuff nature of the recording sessions.