Katie here, and I have a special privilege today: I get to introduce you to hip-hop duo Blackillac. Underwater Sunshine Fest has always tried to bring in as much variety in musical styles as we can, but Blackillac’s performative, percussive vocals up against their clever, engaging lyrics make them a hip-hop act you can’t miss.
Anyone who has been in my car for more than a few minutes knows I crave bass, loops, and honestly… metrical exactness. No other musical form engages as much with poetry as hip-hop and I will fight you on that. In good rap, the internal rhyme alone is intense, but the end rhymes are usually unpredictable and, at least with Blackillac, always drive the song forward. I’ve seen them called “an explosion of energy onstage.” If they have half the charisma, friction, and motion in performance as they do on the tracks, well— “explosion” might be underselling them.
If you haven’t heard of them yet, my guess is they’ll be in your inbox any day through some music publication— not just because they are exceptional, but because Zeale and Phranchyze, who have been friends since they went to high school in Austin, TX together, seem to have stepped out of the ether, ready to write and freestyle. It’s rare to hear of anyone just spitting rhymes these days, but not only are they doing so, they’ve won or been finalists in major battle competitions, including World Rap Championships.
They’ve also opened separately for a few artists you’ve probably heard of: Snoop Dogg, Run the Jewels, Jay Rock, Imagine Dragons, and AWOLNATION. (In fact, I almost said in the first paragraph— if Run the Jewels came out of nowhere for you and you fell absolutely in love with Killer Mike and El-P, you can’t afford to sleep on Blackillac… and then I remembered they’d already opened for them.) Blackillac, led by a production team of Gary Clark Jr., Josiah Bell, and Kallaghan, have been releasing tracks for about a year and their first record is on the way! So I’m excited to share with you some music they’ve already made but I’m going to also talk to you a little bit about what’s to come for this duo.
I’m not going to say the coolest part of my job is that I get to hear new up and coming songs before they’re officially out, but it’s in the running. (This is the part of me that always wanted to be a 1970s record label executive, listening to demos and sharing the best music with the public. But here it is, 2019, and I still get to do that!) Today I’ve got a newer song called “Goodbye” in front of me and, even though I’ve listened to almost nothing but their music this week, it is crazy to me to hear how much their sound and lyrics have sharpened in the past few months. The chorus is simple— “Never can say goodbye, never can say goodbye, you know I love you baby, you know I love you baby, you know I love you baby, I never can say goodbye…”— but the verses themselves are lyrically dense. You have to really slow down and listen. For example:
I wrote this piece then scratched it out
And then re-wrote it
I hit the weed
Then I relaxed and emoted
And surely, for this love of mine
Yeah, that’s you
I swear I’d die a hundred times
Like Tom Cruise
You know the pain, you know the pleasure
Picture two roses that grow together
Even in snowy weather…
Your name in golden letters
In a star field…
That shit is silly, huh?
You make me want to turn a dollar to a million, huh?
Then turn a million to a mansion and some children, huh?
Don’t get the wrong idea: Blackillac can throw lines out that are interesting and lovely, dynamic and well-thought out, but you can’t ever get too comfortable. Because everything I just shared with you is pretty sweet.
Well, that’s why you can’t sleep on these songs. You can’t even really be doing something else while you’re listening. If you are, you might miss that the next line is:
And when they sleep, you grab my dick in the pavilion, huh?
Ha, fuck it, that’s my baby
Clutching on her hips is like touching a Mercedes
Like to my body like the Nile or Euphrates
Praying that our love never crack like the 80s
Such a fuckin’ lady.
Outside of literally taking history from the cradle of civilization to the crack crisis of the 1980s in two lines, Blackillac is pretty brilliantly balancing two very different kinds of love: the cerebral, metaphorical love of high Romanticism with the gritty, carnal love of sex and pleasure.
And they do both equally well. Damn.
The other song I have the pleasure of listening to today is “Feel Like” (feat. Kota the Friend & Gary Clark Jr.) and I have to say, it’s a delight. There’s almost no line that isn’t either negated or changed by the one that follows it. But on this song… well, you can hear it too, even though this is very much a live, early version:
Both in the live performance and the recorded track, it’s impossible not to notice the chemistry, the movement, the sense of humor. I laughed out loud at, “Look at me: I’m the captain now” both when I was watching him sing it to an audience and when I was listening to it over and over in the car. And maybe most remarkable, the song plays off with an almost Peter-Pan-esque trill, something that almost matches the 70s croon throwback in the chorus, “I feel like this is the beginning…”. There’s something wistful, even when the lyrics are aggressive. And that’s the mystery of a duo like Blackillac. How can you be silly and sincere? How can you start a song like this—
…Feeling like a million bucks
Feeling like this XO is expensive, please don’t spill my cup
Shorty want to fuck me, my wifey is a ten, though
Chop the herb to pieces, throw it out the window…
—without a deep understanding of how to tell a story about a complicated character? In the long run, that’s what makes Blackillac’s songs so compelling: these narrators, whether they are actual representations of Zeale and Phranchyze, embrace and delight in cognitive dissonance. You’re going to say, “Shorty want to fuck me” and negate it with “my wifey is a ten, though”? That’s not your average flow. On top of that, there’s this constant almost-Motown sound and voice in the back (Gary Clark Jr. has never done anything but amplify the greatness of whatever he touches) and then at the end, the song sparkles off into the distance.
Guys. This is hip-hop. It’s funny, it’s engaging, it’s dynamic, it’s percussive, it’s poetic, it’s profane, it’s heightened emotion—
It’s Blackillac. And you can see them at Rockwood Music Hall at Underwater Sunshine Fest! I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am to see these guys in action.