This Is BlakRoc
Photo by John Peets
The brainchild of The Black Keys, former Roc-A-Fella records partner Damon Dash and John Peets of Q Prime South, BlakRoc started as a studio experiment. The blues-influenced, garage-rock duo entered the studio, jammed and then brought in some of the biggest names in modern hip hop to rap over live instrumentation (no samples were used on the record). The results feature a number of today’s biggest MCs, including Mos Def, Q-Tip, RZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Raekwon, Ludacris, Pharoahe Monch, Jim Jones, NOE, Nicole Wray and Billy Danze. Acclaimed music journalist Alan Light sits down with The Black Keys to talk about the project’s origins and recording, what other musical adventures the duo have planned and how two white rockers from Ohio came up with one of the year’s best rap records. Below is an excerpt from the article.
Now, I know what you’re going to say. “A rap-rock album? Are you kidding?” And it is undoubtedly true that in the vast spectrum of popular music, there may be no subgenre that has committed more vile atrocities on human ears. Oh, the early fusions attempted by Run-D.M.C. or The Clash were novel enough, but by the time the merger of hard rock and hip-hop had solidified into its own category around the turn of the century, the results were simply horrifying. Limp Bizkit? Korn? Linkin Park? The Kottonmouth Kings? Talk about the worst of both worlds.
Coming at it from the other direction, The Roots as the exception that proves the rule—when actual MCs experimented with live accompaniment. Despite the best of intentions, the results have generally turned out to be less offensive, but forgettably flaccid.
Fortunately, the BlakRoc principals are the first to agree with this assessment. “On the surface, it sounds horrendous, because it rarely is done right,” says Carney of the marriage of live instrumentation and rap. “Other than some stuff by Jay-Z, there haven’t been any live bands with hip-hop that really interested me. But I think Dan and I respect the art form enough to try not to put our fingerprints all over it. This wasn’t like Fall Out Boy hanging with Akon.”
Auerbach adds, “It’s always sort of a gimmick and not really organic. Or it’s just instruments trying to copy hip-hop music. This was just raw instrumentation, from the get-go, and then lyrics on top—it started from the ground up.”
And according to Dash, the difference ultimately comes down to the motivation for this project. “It was never about, ‘Let’s make a rap-rock album,’” he says. “It was like art—let’s put this paint next to this paint and see what it looks like.” In some ways, the album (including its title) is reminiscent of work by the Black Rock Coalition, a movement which arose in the ‘80s as a way to reclaim rock and roll’s African-American heritage, and peaked with the breakthrough of Living Colour.
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