Rockers and rappers mixing in the studio stopped being considered experimental or innovative years ago. The metaphorical walls that once defined musical genres (and often the culture/fan base surrounding them) are now full of holes, as artists such as Jay-Z and Linkin Park and GZA and the Black Lips connect for ''collabos.''
That simple fact should immediately ease any potential tension or expectations from Blakroc, a rap/rock project spearheaded by former Roc-a-Fella Records headman Damon Dash, the Black Keys and their manager, John Peets. Dash, an unabashed Keys fan, called the Akron duo up with an invitation Please see 'Blakroc', E5
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to New York to record a track with rapper Jim Jones. The chemistry was right, and before long, Dash was calling up other emcees, including Mos Def, Q-Tip, RZA, Raekwon, Pharoahe Monch and others, to come to the studio and lay down some verses.
The result is a solid collection of musical miscegenation that shows how much easier these kinds of collaborations have become since the days indie rockers and rappers awkwardly recorded together on the Judgment Night soundtrack.
Produced by the Black Keys and Joel Hamilton, the disc's 11 tracks find the Keys not just removing Dan Auerbach's vocals from some of their big blues-rock riffs (though there are few riff-heavy grooves), but creating complementary beats and musical beds with the occasional hook provided by Auerbach.
Few of the emcees are especially hot right now (i.e., no Drake, Lil Wayne or Gucci Mane), with most coming from late '90s/early 2000s ''True School'' era, of which both Pat Carney and Auerbach are fans.
Cootchie, featuring Ludacris and the ghost of Ol' Dirty Bastard, opens the disc and pretty much sets the template with a big reverbed When the Levee Breaks-style backbeat (Carney's loping style on drums is perfect for hip-hop beats). Auerbach drops bass lines, melodic guitar licks and piano and organ riffs, some played like looped samples, while the emcees spit humorous verses about a woman's prized nether regions.
Among the disc's best tracks are Dollaz & Sense, with Pharoahe Monch and RZA rapping smoothly over a syncopated groove and Auerbach wailing the hook; and the rapper-less Why I Can't Forget Him, featuring former Roc-a-Fella hookstress Nicole Wray, a funky hip-hop flavored R&B tune with some nice noirish riffs and atmospheric touches. Mos Def's On the Vista sounds like a bonus track from his recent The Ecstatic, with a few piano chords and his impressionistic lyrics.
Wu-Tang favorite Raekwon lays down one of his usual detail-filled tales of crack cooking and urban survival on Stay Off the F------ Flowers, and the contrasting styles of mellow emcee Q-Tip and Billy Danze of hyper-aggressive underground duo M.O.P. dovetail nicely on Hope You're Happy, featuring a familiar big blues-rock riff. Jay-Z sound-alike NOE makes the most of his solo track Hard Times over a slinky, head-nodding beat and bass line.
Blakroc probably won't be a game-changer for any of the parties involved, but it does work as a side project, a solid collection of musicians and artists hanging out in the studio and apparently having a good time.
Malcolm X Abram can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3758.