Dynamic Houston alternative hip-hop/R&B duo Blaze X Black are two best friends who have known each other since third grade. A brotherhood that has seen them through coming of age and some of the most dynamic rap stages in Houston, these young men have already experienced the highs and lows of a lifetime. More like twins, Bishop Black and Rick Blaze are joined at the hip through a number of collaborations including short films, a successful Internet radio show and, of course, music.
I first met Blaze X Black outside of Core94 Radio station off the South Loop on a Monday night before their weekly broadcast. What was meant to be a show solely to promote their own brand and music quickly took off into something else while fulfilling a twofold need on Houston's nighttime radio airwaves: comedy and music, the kind of laughs and fire beats that make radio part of the community. Everyone is in on the joke and if they’re not, they are the joke.
Blaze shook my hand, welcoming me into the building while holding open the door. Behind deeply reflective brown eyes, he was meek yet polite, soft-spoken, and offered his name. I almost missed it, he was such a quiet host. I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of rapper, much less radio personality, could operate from such a docile and deferential personality.
I would soon find out.
Listening to and watching Blaze X Black's live banter is much like watching their live performance; there is no stopping these two smartasses. Forget the usual comedy team, in which the wise guy plays off the straight man. There's no deadwood here. Both play off each other expertly, with no drag in hilarity, put-downs or general ass-whippings to anyone who disagrees or challenges their opinions.
That’s exactly what’s makes the show so incredibly successful. “People don’t believe we’re musicians [too],” Blaze explained after the show. “We rarely play our own music [on air]. When we do, occasionally, we get callers like, ‘Hey, who was [performing] that song? That was dope.’ And we’ll tell them, 'That was us.' [Laughs] They’re like, ‘Y'all are full of shit.’”
Yes, the joke is on the audience. There is a subtle yet subversive genius to these two and they have an uncanny ability to handle all aspects of their brand by themselves. This is beyond a simplistic DIY approach — without any label support, BXB handle all the details personally, with a professional flourish. Everything the duo touches seems to turn to entertainment gold, a Midas touch that has also taught them exactly who to include and who to leave behind.
“The past three years have been a beautiful struggle," says Blaze. "We were putting in work and doing dope projects and songs, but outside of our circle no one seemed to really gravitate toward us. We even tried to collaborate with a DJ. After he refused to meet face to face, we realized the people we were dealing with [were] not of the same caliber.”
That caliber is far higher than with many rap acts today. For example, not only do BXB rap; they sing in front of a live band with real instruments and dancers, who call themselves The Art Throbs. Rory Richardson plays drums, Hodari Mitchell is on keys and Clarisa Robinson plays lead guitar — a full band that started out as two guys covering a song.
Forget recorded background music and just two guys spitting into mikes on an empty stage; BXB call themselves an “experience” for a reason. Just a glance at their musical influences, which include everything from N.E.R.D and Prince to Deep Purple and Pink Floyd, communicates exactly how truly diverse and dynamic this group really is.
Yet these two aren’t so eclectic that they’re impossible to follow; quite the opposite. Just one listen to their ShadyLane EP shows the impressive talent these two bring to their music production. Black explains that they have no plans of slowing down anytime soon. “Our vision is simple," he says. "We are just going to keep evolving, creating and remain humble…iron sharpens iron.”
Both agree they see themselves touring nationally and adding more film credits to their résumé. When you hear them speak, see them perform and watch their exchange, you believe them.
Being that good is intimidating. And being even better can leave performers isolated, especially in a highly competitive, nationally recognized city known for its unique rap style. While BXB have been frustrated, they’ve never given up because they have the confidence of knowing they’re really outstanding at what they do.
“There were times where we would have these come-to-Jesus meetings because we knew we were dope, it's just no one else knew," Blaze elaborates. “We kept our head down and kept pushing because of our love for the craft, and eventually the seas started to part."
Reflecting on how far they’ve come along, Blaze sums up. “We formed this group by chance. We were with different people initially. My faction kinda fell apart, then his faction parted ways. I invited him out to my birthday party. He heard me perform a particular song [and] he wanted to do a remix of it, and the chemistry was so good we decided to keep making music together.”
Black ends with the confidence that has seen the men through so many projects together. “We are the next best thing coming out of the city," he says. "No one will out-work us!”
Come see and hear the Blaze X Black Experience for yourself tonight at the Nightingale Room, 308 Main. Doors open at 7 p.m.