Characterizing any artist as "avant-garde" implies analytical laziness. Critics labor to find words and phrases to describe aesthetically challenging works with words like "innovative," "cutting-edge" and "radical." Worst of all is "experimental," whatever that means. Sometimes the music must go in an artist’s direction in spite of its incomprehensibility. For Houston's B L A C K I E, just appreciate it for what it is — hip-hop on fleek.
Changing the game once again, the La Porte native recently released the summer jam of 2015. “I’m So Wet” begins with a brooding synth line that sounds like lean poured slowly into a Styrofoam cup. Before the trap hats double and the beat erupts, a sub-bass terrorizes the speakers, rumbling across the atmosphere like exploding car bombs. The hook — “I’m so way, I’m so way-yay-yet" — unfurls like a banner that, once seen, cannot be forgotten. Sensory overload occurs. The fifth dimension opens. Space and time disappear.
The song marks a new series of collaborations for B L A C K I E. Working with producer $AMMYq and joining forces with Shawty Arabia’s talented collective, together they continue to build a bridge between Houston’s slow-hustle sound and Atlanta’s bursting-at-the-seams Trap mania. Yet these artists look to create a synthesis of the two cities' rich hip-hop traditions. Blunt Fang, Atlanta’s own version of outlier hip-hop, is as equally adventurous as B L A C K I E. The latter emerges on Blunt Fang’s mixtape, Coarse Light II: OTW to Heaven, as a resilient producer on “Graceface,” which samples the Twins' "Heaven or Las Vegas." Lithe, playful and ethereal, the track fails to resemble anything B L A C K I E has produced to date, but might be the first hip-hop track to screw down Elizabeth Fraser’s glossolalia.
The Houston Press recently spoke with B L A C K I E about his past, his present and his secret wish to collaborate with Future.
Houston Press: Let’s begin by delving into the recent past. What is the meaning behind last year's profound title Imagine Yourself in a Free and Natural World?
B L A C K I E: I used to work in this warehouse with a lot of my friends who were artists or in bands, chain-smoking, drinking tons of coffee, and consuming way too many energy drinks, [and] watching these frail-ass dudes trying to pick up these big ass objects. We would talk about books and art while brainstorming weird-ass ideas, and I was just trying to imagine the world as the opposite of what it is now. For instance, what if there were no grocery stores, there were no jails, there was no money? What if the world was reset to zero, just trying to imagine if there wasn’t any of this shit anymore?
What if there were no cars, no T.V., no consumption — who would you be? Where would you live if all of this consumer shit was gone, would you still be you? There would be no rules. Murder doesn’t even exist. There is suddenly nothing, so who would you be?
So, if you did kill someone, there would be no consequences?
Exactly, because consequences for all things that are labeled wrong are man-made anyway.
Do you believe life would be better for you if there wasn’t so much consumption and the rule of law that exists today, especially with the hostile climate created by out-of-control police officers?
I wasn’t trying to go that far with it; I was just looking at it as a mental exercise. For example, I was hanging out with some of my friends at a party, and we were discussing cartoons and T.V. shows. I just wanted to see if I could imagine none of this (pointing to the buildings and skyline around us) being here. Could I detach myself from culture altogether? I was just trying to imagine just me on the planet, like on a sci-fi level. What if I just woke up on a foreign planet, naked, and there was no one there except me —a human on a natural planet? Could I imagine that? That is where I wanted to push my mind to.
The bloodied knife-wielding imagery on Imagine Yourself’s cover expresses the rage found within the album’s sound and within its subject matter. “Wings Blocking Out the Sun” features an Ornette Coleman-like approach to B L A C K I E’s sax playing. Each note, in Despite its disharmony, each note reflects the spirit of defiance. While watching the Trayvon Martin trial, B L A C K I E wondered how to broach the sensitive of subject of police misconduct with his son. How he should instruct his son mystified the rapper more than the blatant racism embedded in practices like New York’s now-extinct “Stop and Frisk.” A disturbing reality set in: What if my son ends up like Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, or Michael Brown?
The seething despair elevates into anger. “A vulture rises/ It turns itself into a fist/ A vulture rises/ It told me its name was injustice,” contains more weight in one quatrain than hundreds of bars from many rappers. The question is easy to answer; it is just not easy to stomach. Clocking in at just over 38 minutes, Imagine Yourself excoriates everything presently wrong with race relations today. B L A C K I E is right. What if none of these racial constructs existed? What if the social fabric we know is shredded to pieces? Only one choice remains: be real.
Houston Press: Were you surprised on how well Imagine Yourself was received by your audience?
B L A C K I E: A lot of people have been cool with how the album turned out, but a lot of my friends have been coming up to me and saying, “Dawg, man, when are you going to get back to rapping again?” Or, when kids come to the shows and they want to mosh. I mean, I like positive feedback, but at the same time, I am trying to get better. Plus, if everybody is telling you what you are doing is great, then how in the fuck am I going to get better?
How much of that criticism gets into your mind?
A little does. There are people whom I’ve known for long-ass periods of time asking me to rap. There are other kids in other cities who want me to go back to rapping. The stuff I have been working on lately is going back to just that. I wouldn’t consider what I am doing now as full releases, but going back and doing some hip-hop. I am not opposed to give people what they want to hear, especially someone who I am good friends with or someone I’ve grown up with. I love rap still. But when I go back and make my next full-length record, it could stray away from hip-hop again.
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If someone downright came out and told you they hated your material—
It wouldn’t matter to me because I am not on anyone’s label. I mean, I’m not Taylor Swift. Everything that I produce comes out of my own pocket. They at least have to respect the approach I take because no one else is doing what I do.
Now that you are working with other artists, are you finding it easier at this stage of the game to collaborate with others?
Absolutely. I am in this phase where I am working with more people. It used to be people would want to send me beats, and I would be like, “Nah, fuck that. I am making noise. I am not touching what you’re doing.” Kids were sending me rap beats; my friends wanted me to hop on shit, and I didn’t even want to touch it. Lately, I have been working with some people, and these are people I would have normally said no to. Now, it’s like, “Let’s do it — let’s drop it!”
Who do you consider your peers?
Juicebox, this crazy rapper from Milwaukee. He’s been doing it for ten years, and he’s 27 like me. A noise rock band out of NYC called The Unstoppable Death Machines. We all got the same story: we’ve been doing this shit for so long and never being on a label and hardly getting on festivals, but still doing it all ourselves. Blunt Fang out of Atlanta puts out some amazing music. The key for me and who [to] work with goes back to having integrity. I respond to authenticity. Blunt Fang, he and his homies put me on mixtapes with guys who were already shot and killed — real trap shit.
Who would be someone in the mainstream you would like to collaborate with?
Future. He’s so far ahead of the game. I mean, I wouldn’t really consider him a mainstream rapper. The mainstream is coming to him, not the other way around.