Blakroc: Blakroc

On paper, the idea of a star-studded project helmed by Roc-A-Fella co-founder Damon Dash and Akron’s indie-blues duo The Black Keys seems like something forged in the fires of late-’90s rap-rock hell. But Blakroc’s eponymous debut, which features a spate of A-list rappers accustomed to gritty beats, defeats all odds by sounding both organic and cohesive. There may be a bit of misguided audacity in opening Blakroc with a song called “Coochie,” but the track’s swagger is undeniable: deep bass, heavy drums, and squealing guitar licks that perfectly complement the drawling style of Ludacris and the apeshit ramblings of the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard. “On The Vista” follows, with an elastic tempo that Mos Def mimics with precise amounts of singsong slack. The Keys’ Dan Auerbach croons out an almost Badu-like chorus for the NOE-assisted “Hard Times,” a huge thumper featuring pensive piano hits and bursts of blurty organ. All the Wu representatives—including RZA and Raekwon—sound right at home on the Keys’ live-sounding tracks, as does Q-Tip, unsurprisingly, but late-’90s R&B one-hit wonder Nicole Wray experiences a genuine rebirth, providing the album’s soulful centerpiece, “Why Can’t I Forget Him,” and lending vintage bluesy hooks to three other tracks. Dash and the Keys score an undeniable win by keeping the samples homemade and the production pared down, and by hand-picking collaborators who know how to sink into a groove. With any luck, Blakroc has effectively consigned the term “crossover” to the previous millennium.

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