Music Review: Black Keys' "Blakroc"

12/08/2009 Posted by Admin

By our guest blogger, Sarah Vaynerman

Music junkies know that the best songs and albums transcend through time and genre. "Blakroc," the new Black Keys rock-rap album, is a perfect example of a cross-genre album with strong influences ranging from '60s Rock 'n' Roll (Jimmy Hendrix) to '90s Hip-Hop (Ol' Dirty Bastard). Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, the blues rock duo from Ohio better known as the Black Keys, collaborated with Damon Dash and Jim Jones of Roc-A-Fella Records and an eclectic assortment of major hip-hop artists for their eighth album release since their 2002 debut. The album features (mainly New York-bred) rappers Raekwon, RZA, Jim Jones, NOE, Mos Def, Pharoahe Monch, Billy Danze, Q-Tip and singer Nicole Wray. Ludacris and the late Ol' Dirty Bastard are also included in a track, but only on the CD version of the album, which isn't available on iTunes.

If you're worried that "Blakroc" might sound like the horrors that plagued rap-rock in the '90s, rest assured that this is a far cry from Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock. And in a shocking move by the producers, Lil Wayne is not featured on this album despite the rapper's relentless pursuit to get involved in all things deemable as cross-genre. Though Damon Dash and Jim Jones are the worst kind of hip-hop fame whores, they keep it down to earth with "Blakroc" by being smart enough not to over-produce the album. Fortunately for all involved, the Black Keys had creative control over the instrumentals on the record, resulting in an organic and consoling display of blues-rock that reflects inspirations such as Junior Kimbrough, Zeppelin and the aforementioned Hendrix. Let's not forget the influence of Danger Mouse, the king of the rap-rock genre (most famous for "The Grey Album," a mashup of the Beatles' "White Album" and Jay-Z's "Black Album"), who produced their 2008 album "Attack & Release."

The Black Keys have received well-deserved acclaim for their raw instrumental genius that few mainstream musicians have been able to achieve. Their tame, bluesy sound is a welcome departure from the commercially appealing pop-rock beats that have taken over the airwaves in the last decade, and to see Auerbach and Carney do hip-hop without the cheesy, mindless approach of teenybopper rappers like 50-Cent further demonstrates their commitment to good music. There may be a conflict of interest for the intellectual who appreciates soulful, meaningful lyrics that the Black Keys have delivered in the past and the sometimes empty and derogatory subject matter of this album (ODB and Luda open "Blakroc" with a tasteless song called "Coochie"). But that's just a testament to rap and hip-hop, which traditionally feature uncensored verses that reflect the reality of those who don't have the luxuries of being poetic snobs.

Tracks that feature R&B singer Nicole Wray--"Why Can't I Forget Him," "Hope You're Happy," "What You Do To Me" and "Done Did It"--appeal to lovers of rock, blues, jazz, rap/hip-hop, and R&B alike as they beautifully encompass a taste of each genre to create a new category of music that can simultaneously torture and soothe the spirit depending on the experiences and mood of the listener. Her angelic voice on these softer tracks balances the misogyny of some of the less-than-politically-correct numbers.

Rapper NOE of ByrdGang stands out on this album for his uncanny resemblance to Jay-Z. Though there is only one Hova, NOE's voice, rhythmic style and clever lyrics catapult him from no one to noteworthy on this album.

An essential quality of good music is that it brings people together, oftentimes people who are not likely to cross paths in any other circumstance. There is simply no way to appropriately gauge the target audience for "Blakroc" and yet it's safe to say that it contains something for everyone. To listen to "Blakroc" in its entirety is to experience a paradoxical struggle in the music industry dealing with themes like chauvinism/feminism, power/vulnerability, and even rock/rap. It's cohesive and carries a message that speaks to an entire population of music-lovers of the last half-century. Is it the best that the Keys have put out? No--but it stands apart as a statement to collaboration and evolution in an industry that has relied heavily on safe, well-defined, and neatly packaged albums misguided by Top-40 ideals.

View video of the "Blakroc" project below.  Thoughts?

Blakroc Project from Myrhax on Vimeo.

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  1. Vas said...

    I am not the biggest fan of the rock-rap genre, but the "Blackroc" album certaintly lives up to it's hype. The album is raw and organic. Even with so many featured artists from the Nitty Gritty they still hold on to their bluesy vibe.

    Awesome review! I feel you truly understand The Black Key. Couldn't agree with you more that it has something for everyone.

  2. Admin said...

    Sarah is a genius that way--she gets right to the heart of it.