B L A C K I E. Photo: Daniel Jackson
For about the last ten years, hip hop has been in a state of upheaval, where those true to the game get their craft lifted by those at the top. In recent years, the tides have turned and acts that keep an eye on the future of hip hop have all known that LaPorte’s B L A C K I E is ahead of everyone else in the game. On his new full length Remains, he takes things in a new direction without distancing himself from his signature sound. The album is so forward and progressive for hip hop that it’s almost like staring into a crystal ball. Removed is some of the grime that B L A C K I E has become known for, and what’s left is a dystopian sound that offers up a bleak future where no one wins, except the listener.
Opening with “Numbers Not a Name,” the howl from various squeals of guitar are met with B L A C K I E’s distinct vocals, presenting a depth of range where he sounds like a man against the world, or against authority, feeling like he’s in the grips of a desperate action. The meandering piano in the mix, varying synths and guitars create the image of a bleak world, presenting him at the tipping point of either a breakdown or an impassioned plea for understanding. This is followed by the sonic assault of “Academy Academy.” B L A C K I E is treading into new waters by opening the track with strange bell sounds before multiple beats are met with vocals at the front of the mix, to the point that you can understand what’s he’s saying. A cluster of guitars and synths meet head on like a collision with very few survivors while B L A C K I E flexes a flow we haven’t heard from him since his early days. The song is more accessible than his last couple of offerings, but it doesn’t feel like it’s too far from what you expect either. The grime isn’t as intense here, but it totally works as the sax has more depth, almost used as a drone factor, or more as an instrument of sound rather than an instrument of destructive noise. This creates a newer sounding version of what he does while seeming more forward thinking in its refined presentation. The song clocks in at seven and a half minutes, yet B L A C K I E keeps that length interesting, using more hypnotic sound clusters than in past records. It’s an intriguing yet mesmerizing presentation that you can’t shake.
While the desolate opening of “Run From Desire” sounds like that of a song from a cyberpunk film, once you delve into the track you realize B L A C K I E is taking his sound to new places. Distinct dual vocals are placed atop one another in a way I’ve never heard before, ultimately meeting with a horn track in the distance alongside a piano that you can faintly hear and a bass that temporarily comes in before Middle Eastern horns triumphantly offer up the vocals again with a medley of sounds that are blended in such a way that they almost sound like a crowd in a fury. With a mix of his screams and the vocal “run from desire” at the top, he never lets you forget what he’s singing, the thought of a bleak future never leaves the narrative. This continues on “Three Ways,” where it’s obvious that B L A C K I E has changed his game, with songs that have a more focused and contiguous theme without the polarizing pierces of sound he’s employed before. Instead he focuses on making songs that act as the soundtrack to a fevered revolution. Strange keys emanate from start to finish, though they’re catchy in their own way, offering something that’s closer to dark electronica than what you’d expect. This is B L A C K I E at his finest, literally giving us short rhymes alongside screams while taking the hip hop game to a darker and more off-key place where he’s the king.
“Return To Control” gets started with keys that are almost immediately met with a beat and vocals, while a mix of multiple sounds play underneath the track. The sonic layering on the song is something else, complete with saxophone and what sounds like dual vocals, full of intensity and a pace that keeps your interest. The song is the closest to traditional in its structure of the eight songs on the album. While still far from the norm, it proves that the it’s more than chaos through a broad landscape. Closing off with the lyrics, “You want control, you love control, you need control,” there’s a simplicity that still feels complex here, proving the distinct nature of his composition that sets him apart from everyone else in hip hop. He slows things down with a softer guitar and an almost screwed sounding vocal with “Rest In My Brain.” The song is a far cry from the B L A C K I E you’ve seen before, coming on in a way that feels right for this album while being a little far to the left of his previous work.
However, on the following track, “Position Targeted,” the crazed assault that B L A C K I E is known for returns with a force and provides yet another standout of the album. Complete with a rat-a-tat beat and in-your-face vocals, a dense bombardment of saxophone, synths, and beats cluster in unison with his screams of sheer intensity before the sax takes center stage and he returns to a more focused sound that still feels free. The overall feel of the track is like that of an artist who’s taking their past and completely reinventing it, staying years ahead of the rest of the game. The album ends with the more stoic and slower paced “I Watch Them Turn You Off.” Keeping a slower beat again, the sadness of the backing tracks and dual vocals make the song more intense and full of a vigor that never dissipates. When the saxophone comes in, it’s met with heavy and deep synths that sound like the battle cry of the end of the world, which is where the album finds its end.
This is possibly the most forward step B L A C K I E has taken as far as production and overall album feel. By taking out some of the grimier elements and putting his vocals at the front of the album’s mix, the entire album comes off as a little more clean without feeling polished. The album keeps him ahead of everyone else, once again, while offering a balance between what he’s become known for and what he’s onto next, and giving all who listen his strongest release to date.
You can hear “Remains” for yourself when it’s released on May 13, or hear it in person at it’s release party also on May 13 at Civic TV. The all ages show is free and has support sets from Illustrations and Baby Horse, with doors at 9 pm.
B L A C K I E Stays Ahead on New Full Length This was reposted for my personal reading use