It shouldn’t work – blues-rock duo, a whole roster of rappers, from the hardcore to the conscious, and Damon Dash (remember Victoria Beckham’s solo career?). There is a reason as to why it works, and it lies in history – permit me a digression.
What is hip-hop/rap? It’s disco, soul and dance music stripped of a lot of the groove, and with rapping/toasting on top. Now, where does disco and soul come from? Gospel, blues and rock’n’roll. Rock music, this also comes from the blues… so when swampy blues-rock duos (not the clattering industrial Jack and Meg kind) get longer in beard and darker in tone, you can bet your bottom dollar (or dolla, I should say) that hip-hop won’t be too far away from their ears.
The Roots, the Band – two very different groups, but both with a very similar base: strong bass, groovy and funky drums, and an affinity for soul (after all, the Roots took neo-soul and hip-hop to new places, and the Band sounded just as convincing covering Marvin Gaye as they did playing Appalachian mountain music) – could be the musical forefathers to this project. Utilising Patrick Carney’s and Dan Auerbach’s organs, drums, guitars, and general sense of dirty New Orleans gloom and sludge, hip-hop beats are easily slung out, twisted and exposed for a stellar collection of rappers and singers to show off their talents on top.
Mos Def provides some of the best flow here, with “On The Vista” and “Ain’t Nothing Like You (Hoochie Coo)”, while RZA performs brilliantly on two of the standout cuts, “Dollaz and Sense” (with Pharoahe Monch) and “Tellin’ Me Things”. The Black Keys, the Roc bit (I can only assume), stay locked into grooves until “Hope You’re Happy”, when their guitars make it a lot more rock, and Q-Tip sounds simultaneously in and out of place, while the more aggressive sound suits Billy Danze a lot more.
Opener “Coochie” pretty much sums up the project – two of the most hardcore rappers of all time, ODB and Ludacris, rapping nimbly and outlandishly over a massive beat from Carney, and slidey, twangy guitars from Auerbach. Hip-hop might be obsessed with sex, money and machismo, but then, considering that the most archetypal blues song is “Hoochie Coochie Man”, about sex, money and machismo, there isn’t really a problem here. Closer “Done Did It” features a ferocious vocal from Noe, and really spanking track from the band. The slower numbers, featuring Nicole Wray’s soulful vocals, “What You Do To Me” and “Hope You’re Happy”, slink and groove like the best soul.
OK, so it’s not going to best the Wu-Tang’s greatest work, and it’s not going to win the Black Keys a lot of new fans, but it’s a fun, funky, groovy little diversion for all concerned. Let’s face it, what the world needs now is a bit of soul, and this has got that in spades.
Key Tracks: On The Vista/Dollaz and Sense/Tellin’ Me Things/Done Did It