Local Love: B L A C K I E
Photo: Charles Nickles
If you live in Houston long enough, you’ll see some amazing things. If you go see enough bands, you’ll more than likely see some amazing performances. However, if you see a million bands, you might not see someone local who’s garnered national praise. Of course, I’m referring to Houston’s own complex & influential B L A C K I E. In the past, we Houstonians have gotten to watch him grow from outsider artist meets rapper, to hip hop influence on the likes of Kanye West for starters. Last week, B L A C K I E dropped a new three song release that has him taking rap far from the same ol’ same ol’ world that it’s become. Which is saying a lot considering the source.
I’ve been lucky enough to see B L A C K I E, also known as Michael LaCour, perform more than a dozen times, and I’m never short of amazed at what I see transpire. Most of his shows are a mix of art, mixed media, and very loud chaos that has the tendency to leave many in shock at what they’ve just witnessed. Last year’s “FUCK THE FALSE,” was a tour de force that showcased what Death Grips always wished they could become. “IMAGINE YOUR SELF IN A FREE AND NATURAL WORLD,” isn’t an album you’ll hear many hip hop artists recognize as genius; but in reality, it’s pretty close to just that. The opening track, “Wings Blocking Out The Sun” returns to the form of previous efforts where free form jazz, punk rock, hard core noise, and hip hop all come together before they’re chopped into something completely different. The song runs over sixteen minutes, and in many ways, covers B L A C K I E’s previous works. The polarizing nature of what many who catch him live possibly feel, is ever present on the track. What “Wings Blocking Out The Sun” does, is mixes so many genres into a free form of jazz and self expression, that it almost feels futuristic. I could see hip hop going this route of free form ideas some day after the major label system punishes the public with more pop crap disguised as actual rap music. There are moments where the song feels like what a Frank Zappa hip hop song may have sounded like mixed with poetry mingling in the background. Where earlier B L A C K I E albums had the jazz elements huddled behind the vocals, it’s full frontal on the opening track.
The second song, “Forest Of Ex-Lovers” also clocking in at over sixteen minutes; creepily slinks in like a stranger in the night. The multitude of what transpires is simplistic at first listen, but only becomes more landscaped and full with every second of play. The vocals come in almost by themselves like pieces of art that stand on their own, only interrupted by a simple bass line covered in a thin veil of distortion. This is only cut short by long form horn stabs and his own screams to be followed by chaotic yet minimalist drums. The song has moments of sonic landscaping that are so simple, yet so diverse; that when the final moments of the track’s pace get cut off by more vocals and saxophone…you’re shocked that you’ve run through another sixteen minutes.
The final song, “Cry, Pig!” comes off as the strongest of the three. This isn’t because it’s the shortest, or even that there’s more melody involved; but that it brings the album to a proper closing. The simple vocals with rhythmic bass line, get moments of screaming atop pre-tracked vocals that set the song away from the rest of the album. The almost anthemic repetition of the phrase, “now it’s time” becomes it’s own rhythm section while LaCour actually raps in a more traditional sense towards the end of the track. All or at least most of the previously used instrumentation of the two prior tracks are melded together to finish the song off.
In the end, it’s a very brave and bold attempt at something entirely different from an artist who’s always been on the outside, or at least ten steps ahead of everyone else. If you take the time to listen to these three songs, you should find merit in all that they encapsulate. The themes of jazz and poetry that are mixed with screams and simple bass lines, are so obviously ahead of their time; that anyone who knocks this album will feel dumb years after saying so. Like most of his albums, LaCour is so far ahead of the curve that it looks like a straight line where he waits for everyone to catch up. If Kanye West is the David Bowie of hip hop, then B L A C K I E is easily the John Coltrane of the same genre. And that’s not a bad place to be in a genre where everything sounds about the same.