Review Summary: This oft-forgotten hip-hop project by The Black Keys will have you bobbing your head one minute, and lowering it in shame the other.
Since their 2001 inception, The Black Keys have been riddled with comparisons to The White Stripes. I'm sure Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney don't like it, but it seems fair enough to me. Both are two-person(I almost typed man) bands; one on drums, one on guitar. Critics have called both acts blues-rock and garage-rock a hefty amount of times. And it's only natural for one to say "The Black Keys are similar to The White Stripes" rather than vice versa. The Stripes were established in 1997, four years before The Keys. After 2001's White Blood Cells, the indie scene huddled around The White Stripes like Christ's second coming. They're arguably the bigger band; Jack White seeing more success through 2 side projects, The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs.
Meanwhile, I wouldn't count out The Black Keys just yet. Most likely in an attempt to distance themselves from these tired comparisons, in 2007 they announced their collaboration with hip-hop producer Danger Mouse and blues legend Ike Turner. The project continued, even with the latter's death in December 2007. Attack and Release turned out to be very good; a pleasant surprise that a DM-produced blues album actually works. And I guess Patrick and Dan really are interested in hip-hop. Their newest release, Blakroc is another collaboration between [themselves, of course] and some of hip-hop's biggest names in 2009. After collaborating with a respected man that made his name collaborating with other respected men, the sky must be the limit for The Black Keys' hip-hop aspirations! Yeah, you'd think that.
It's hard to say Blakroc is a successful idea. Right after something dope finishes, you're treated to something mediocre-at-best. RZA's "Telling Me Things" honestly sounds like he just tagged along with Rae to the studio, and just decided to wing it when he was asked to contribute something. It's the epitome of filler. "Hope You're Happy" is about heartbreak; I think. Which is fitting, I guess, it's a blues-hip-hop album. It's also Q-Tip's sole appearance on the record, in the form of a miniscule 30-second verse.
"Just another basket case, stricken with the lonlies/
Invoke(?) the man, out through the tenderoni(?)/
Couldn't leave the children left a little alimony/
Nothin' in my cup it's just stale macaroni"
What? I'm sure I heard the second line wrong, but you just try and replace "invoke" and "tenderoni" with anything that makes it sound sensible. And why is he rapping like a robot? "Coochie", the album's opener, is great from a lyrical standpoint. It's an old ODB verse, featuring Ludacris rapping with the late ODB's track. That said, it just doesn't work well at all with The Black Keys' instrumental. It's no wonder the track is not included on the iTunes release. Hopefully someone remixes it.
Listen, this is not at all a terrible album. Right after "Coochie" is "On The Vista", undeniably the album's best track. This is what the whole album should have been. Patrick's drumming is perfect with the piano melody, guitar solo, and Mos Def's Rapping. NOE's performances on the record are among the best, and likely to be overlooked; his voice a crystal-clear reflection of early Jay-Z. Raekwon's "Stay Off The ***in' Flowers" is great; another short-but-sweet 2 and a half minute track. Praising Rae's lyricism and flow would have been necessary 15 years ago, but you know already.
Blakroc is very hit or miss; after you're done dancing to "Ain't Nothing Like You", "Hope You're Happy" will make you wonder why you picked up the record in the first place. None of these tracks are downright awful(with the exception of "Telling Me Things"), there's just a lot of uninteresting in something that has the potential to be superb. It's a great idea that just isn't executed well enough to merit any overwhelming praise.