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White Anti-Racism: No Hairshirt Necessary

Rappers+Black Keys=Blakroc: Sounds like regular rap to me and I dig it!

Ben (my husband, and the bottomless source of all new music I listen to) introduced me to Blakroc tonight. After listening to a few minutes and exclaiming how much I liked it Ben told me that it was a collaboration between the Black Keys and various rappers. Awesome! I’m always excited for Ben to discover a new album for me. (His music finding skills are far superior to mine, so I don’t even bother to look anymore)

Highlights, IMO:  1st track: great Ludacris track posthumously featuring ODB.   2nd track: Excellent Mos Def. 3rd track: Pretty good featuring NOE, worth listening to mostly because he sounds sooooo much like JayZ. 7th track: Super fun Mos Def and Jim Jones. Love it. 8th track: A perfectly tense and steady track feat. Q-tip. First time I’ve enjoyed hearing him since we exhausted The Renaissance.

So anyways, there are some other tracks in between, mostly featuring RZA and Raekwon, both of whom I’ve never really latched on to, probably because I’ve never really latched on to Wu Tang either. ANNNNNYWAYS: The point is, this album is RAP. It features (in both the usual sense of the word and the rap track ‘feat.’ sense) rap artists doing what they do, which is rapping. Yeah, occasionally, the guitar becomes prominent, and occasionally there’s a blues-rock lick, but really, it is rap. And it’s good!

After discussing for a few minutes how much we liked it, Ben mentioned that it has not received much positive criticism.(***See disclaimer below) Even Pitchfork which, as he put it, “usually steers me pretty well for rap” only gave it a 6.7– a lackluster review. This piqued my interest; the album seems catchy at first listen and has a fun assortment of talented rappers, most of whom are well renowned for their art. It’s NOT the best album/mixtape/collaboration EVER, but overall, what’s not to like? I started my research on Wikipedia. And upon reading that Blakroc is a ” rap rock collaboration album by Ohio-based blues rock band The Black Keys and several hip hop and R&B artists” I quickly formed a hypothesis to explain the album’s reportedly unenthusiastic critical reception.

I listened to this album as a rap album. Because all of the tracks are rap (with the exception of Nicole Wray’s). Makes sense, no? But, upon learning that the album centered around The Black Keys, a white blues rock band, who had previously “toe-dipped into hip-hop by having Danger Mouse produce their last LP” (from Pitchfork), I had to wonder if the negative reception was driven more by the context of the album’s creation (black musicians and white musicians enthusiastically working with each other)  than it did with the actual musical product. Because white people aren’t really recognized publicly as legitimate participants in rap (or in African American Vernacular, or— *jump!*— in discussions of America’s raced history of which they are certainly a part!), reviewers won’t critique it as a fully realized rap album but instead see it as an inauthentic experiment. Similarly, I think many reviewers probably weren’t comfortable or were even mistrustful of the much-more-black-than-white product with white musicians involved in every track. If you are uneasy with the idea behind a project, it’s unlikely that you’ll evaluate the final piece without unease.

Ben totally agreed with me that it’s a rap album because it features rappers rapping and it sounds like rap. Thus, he re-examined The Black Keys’ involvment and realized that they orchestrated/recorded all of the sounds supporting the rap, and also guided the conceptual project. In other words, he said, they produced the album. “If they were black, not white, they would just be credited as producing the album.” So fucking true! And this is not at all to devalue the involvement of The Black Keys. A poorly produced rap album can be absolutely terrible to listen to, no matter how good the rapping is.

Kudos to The Black Keys for doing something that they wanted to do! Kudos to Mos Def, Ludacris, NOE, RZA, Raekwon, QTip and all others I’m forgetting for saying “Yes, I’ll let some white rock musicians, not even super popular ones, produce some tracks.”

All this being said, on a scale of 1-10, I don’t think I’d give it higher than a 7, maybe a 7.5. It’s enjoyable, but there are many better rap albums.

HUGE FUCKING DISCLAIMER: I haven’t read all of the reviews and I am aware that there are some that are decidedly positive. I really just wanted to post because I like the album and was interested in thinking about black/white authenticity issues in a new context.

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