This Is BlakRoc
The breakneck pace of the BlakRoc sessions helped guarantee that things wouldn’t get monotonous. The Keys played their scuzzy, droning instrumentals for each rapper until they settled on a track they liked, and then the MC would settle in to write. Dash warned all of them that they had to stand and deliver in the studio—there would be no chance to take a beat home and write later.
“Everybody had their different method,” says Auerbach. “Mos liked to improvise—he wrote a bunch of lyrics, but when he ran out of words on paper, he just started free flowing. Jim Jones sat on a chair for like an hour and a half, looking like he was about to pass out. I thought, ‘Oh, great, we’re wasting all this time,’ but all of a sudden, he’s like, ‘I’m ready,’ and he gets up and does his verse.”
One of the Wu-Tang Clan’s most respected lyricists fully lived up to The Black Keys’ expectations from their beloved Shao-Lin Warriors. “Being around Raekwon is what I imagine being around Dylan is like,” Auerbach says. “He came in and listened to the music, sat down, smoked a blunt and in like half an hour, wrote 20 bars of the most visual, intense story line. And then he did it flawlessly—hit all the stops musically. That was like being around greatness.”
For the Keys, Raekwon was also an example of the misrepresentation of rappers in the media. “He’s always portrayed as Staten Island gritty, carrying a razor blade in his mouth,” says Auerbach. “Then he walks in and he’s, like, jovial. You never know what to expect—most of the things you read are untrue. Except about Lou Reed—he really is an asshole!”
The diverse lyrical tactics on BlakRoc are reflected in the range of the song structures. While Raekwon’s “Stay off the Fuckin’ Flowers” is a breathless, two-minute street narrative, a track like the first single, “Ain’t Nothing Like You,” is more elaborate, featuring Mos Def singing, Jim Jones rhyming, and Auerbach’s signature, laconic “la-la-la” backing vocals. R&B vocalist Nicole Wray adds melodic counterpoint to four of the tracks.
Though some of the tracks feel a bit too raw and unfinished, when it all really comes together—like Jones and Billy Danze trading verses and Wray and Auerbach batting around hooks on “What You Do to Me”—it sounds like a supercharged Black Keys song. The format even seems to have brought out some added vulnerability and self-reflection for the rappers, and the whole thing is relatively free of the “Look, Ma, I’m rhyming with a band!” lines that usually clutter such efforts.
A film crew documented the BlakRoc sessions and added webisodes to blackroc.com each week—what jumps out from the footage is how happy and relaxed the MCs were, seemingly freed by stepping out of their usual element. “While collaborating with The Black Keys and Damon Dash in the studio may seem like an unusual fit, it felt natural,” says Q-Tip in a statement on the site. “We were able to bring our own unique strengths and experiences together.”
There was one artist that the Keys wanted most of all. “After Mos and Jim came in, Dan was like, ‘Do you think you could get RZA?,’” says Dash. “I said I could try—we have the same barber in LA, so I called him and he reached out for me.”
“RZA is just a musical genius,” says Auerbach. “He’s our hero musically—there’s The Beatles, Carter and Ralph Stanley, and the RZA. There are some super dudes that have influenced me, and he’s right there.”
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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