BlakRoc: The Black Keys Do Hip-Hop The Black Keys are known for their stripped-down, blues-inspired music. But in a new project called BlakRoc, they are breaking into the world of hip-hop and collaborating with rappers like RZA and Pharoahe Monch.
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BlakRoc: The Black Keys Do Hip-Hop

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BlakRoc: The Black Keys Do Hip-Hop

BlakRoc: The Black Keys Do Hip-Hop

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This next story begins with one of the first songs recorded by the rap star Jay-Z. (Soundbite of song, "Can't Knock the Hustle")

JAY: (Rapping) Check, check. Yo, I'm makin' short term goals, when the weather folds just put away the leathers and put ice on the gold.

INSKEEP: The track is called "Can't Knock the Hustle," and we play it because the story involves a record producer who helped to make it. That same producer heard something he could make out of this:


INSKEEP: The hip-hop producer's name is Damon Dash, and he was looking for new projects when he came across a very different style of music. He was listening to the Black Keys. And what he heard lead to a new album that puts rockers and rappers together. The Black Keys are a popular rock duo from Akron, Ohio. Their music borrowed much less from hip-hop than it did from the blues.

THE BLACK KEYS: (Singing) I was a movin' man in my younger days...

INSKEEP: Hip-hop producer Damon Dash got on the phone.

DAN AUERBACH: And he's like a ball of energy.

INSKEEP: And Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys listened to an invitation to work with him.

AUERBACH: He's got, like, ADD and wants to do everything all at once. He's like, you guys want to make a movie? Let's make a movie. You want to do this? We'll do this. Whatever you want to do, just call me.

INSKEEP: Which explains how The Black Keys, two guys who say they can't rap, made a hip-hop record with a bunch of artists who can. It's called BlakRoc.


BLAKROC: (Singing) You know, you know, hey, what you do to me, what you do to me. Now all I see, yeah, is new to me, new to me, yeah.

INSKEEP: The Black Keys recorded with leading rappers including RZA of the Wu- Tang Clan and Mos Def. That allowed these Indie rock musicians to try a style of music they had been thinking about for years. The first voice you'll hear is Patrick Carney, the drummer. The second is Dan Auerbach who plays guitar.

PATRICK CARNEY: Well, when we were like 21 we made our first real demo and we put a bunch of drum loops in the background and samples of nonsense. And actually, the first label made us take it all off.

AUERBACH: When I learned to play music, I was listening to blues music. And all the blues music I liked was super simple and stripped down. And then all the hip hop I liked was super simple and stripped down and we always heard that connection.

INSKEEP: And for the album "BlakRoc," they tried to make that connection with some of the artists they admire.


BLAKROC: (Singing) I see dead people when I spit wit my sixth sense. My sixteens is sick sentences that make sense. Which means, I inflict pain that's intense. I got brains backstage. I been rhyming sick ever since.

INSKEEP: The rapper here is known as Pharoahe Monch and he grew up admiring blues rock as much as the Black Keys admired rap.

PHAROAHE MONCH: This is not something new, but I think what makes this special is the guy's sensibility of hip hop and the drum loop like timing of the patterns and it makes it a groove that's easy to rhyme to and to write over and to rap to.


BLAKROC: (Singing) If it don't make dollars, it don't make sense. If it don't make dollars (unintelligible).

INSKEEP: Can you walk me through the creative process there? How did you build that song, if that's the way to put it?

AUERBACH: (Unintelligible). We came in early in the morning. And when I say early in the morning, I mean noon...


AUERBACH: ...and started recording. And the guy who did the first verse is RZA from Wu-Tang and he came in to the studio and got on the guitar and Pat got on the drums. And before we knew it, we had this whole song structure and then RZA put his vocals on. And then we had an open verse for Pharoahe - and he came on another day. But, yeah, I mean, the song - the whole form and the first verse and the chorus were all done in one day.

CARNEY: Most of the emcees would show up around - between 7:00 and 9:00.

AUERBACH: And they would have to come up with lyrics on the spot, you know, the same way that Pat and I had to come up with the music on the spot. You know, the whole record was done in 11 days, finished, everything all the music, all the lyrics.

INSKEEP: Was that because studio time is expensive or because...


AUERBACH: That's because, you know, we're cheap.

CARNEY: We're kind of cheap and impatient and like to work fast.

AUERBACH: And - but we also don't like to be too precious. You know, I think that if you let something sit too long, you kind of get away from the original intention, you know, your original pure thought and emotion. And...

CARNEY: We're basically not the guys you want painting your house.



CARNEY: Not at all. Well, you really don't want us doing anything for you.


BLAKROC: (Singing) They told me pain only shows you where you're going. You get to laugh and that shows you where you've been. But when you get the cash that only shows you how to sell it when you're getting fast money and you blow it in the wind. Where we're from, success, one in a million. We thought success was getting money from the building.

INSKEEP: This is a style of music that millions of people quite obviously love and admire and a style of music that some people - it drives them around the bend. It drives some people crazy in ways that are kind of hard to explain.

CARNEY: Well, you know what? The same people that get driven crazy by hip hop are the same people that probably listen to the type of music that drives me crazy. Like, Journey Covers.


INSKEEP: Not that there's anything wrong with Journey Covers.

CARNEY: Yes, there is.

AUERBACH: Yeah, there is. I was in a gas station and I literally told the guy to change the channel. I wouldn't pay for what I was buying if I had to hear that. I can't do business around that kind of music.

INSKEEP: So - but you know this sentiment. I bet all three of you have heard that said at some point.

CARNEY: Well, anybody...

AUERBACH: You know what? Hip hop is the new rock and roll, you know what I mean? And anybody who doesn't think that is just sort of living in the past. It's all just American music, really, when you get right down to it. And it's all - it comes from the same place, the mix of cultures, the mix of musical styles from different continents and it's just moving forward, you know.

INSKEEP: The album is called "BlakRoc." It's out today. The Black Keys played with a variety of rappers ranging from Mos Def to Pharoahe Monch. And you can hear two songs from BlakRoc at our website


INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


BLAKROC: (Singing) Yeah, I set her back into the breeze, get my cracker barrel (unintelligible). (Unintelligible) I'm showing up in heaven but they'll not let us in. The airport, the four-point Sheraton 150Gs and a duffel full of friend. You better come get it. A friend is a friend, but if they're underpaying (unintelligible) then he better come...

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