You know a rapper has started to take himself seriously when he begins hosting listening sessions for writers rather than handing out review copies of his new project. You know a writer takes a rapper seriously when he agrees to such limited access because he’s so eager to hear even a snippet.
Under these circumstances I found myself in P. Blackk’s Olde Towne East living room, the sounds streaming from his computer speakers confirming my suspicion that he has reason to take himself seriously. With the taste-making Sole Classics scene at his back and a cosign from Twitter pen pal Erykah Badu in his pocket, he’s on the brink of releasing Columbus’ best rap record in a year full of landmark Columbus rap records.
“Blackk Friday,” to be unveiled (you guessed it) the day after Thanksgiving, is a tumultuous meditation on personal crisis, empowerment and the perils of coming into your own. “It’s hard to be mad when everybody believes in you,” Blackk raps on the opening track. That doesn’t stop him from seething about everything from the racists at his elementary school to the girl who broke his heart.
These 12 tracks offer a direct window into the mind of the 20-year-old born Pedro Fequiere. It’s dark in there — too dark to navigate but for Blackk shining.
He’s mostly quiet in person, a tall, lanky CCAD illustration major in skinny jeans who seems more comfortable expressing himself over 808s and samples. On the eerie title track, he confesses, “Outside of my music, I would probably be a freak.”
In the context of bleak but beautiful production by Fly.Union’s Iyeball, he’s anything but. Blackk approximates Gus from “Breaking Bad,” his conflicted emotions smoldering under irrepressible cool. He loses it only on the seven-minute “An Ex Love Song.”
“I haven’t got laid in a while, and it’s pitiful,” Blackk laments, then: “I cherish Tuesdays ’cause that’s when I see your face/ But not too much because I wanna give you space/ But not too much ’cause I don’t wanna be replaced.” It’s an incredibly raw, relatable document of the fallout from young love gone sour.
“That’s the biggest reason why I still left it on there,” he told me. “I can’t repeat or fake those emotions.”
Bad romance isn’t the only thing bumming Blackk out. One grandma died this year, another had a stroke, and his mom battled cancer. Then there’s the “bloodsuckers” decried on “Bad Gamble” and the latent Midwest racism that once spawned self-loathing.
On “Blackk Friday,” he finds power in self-exploration. When he proclaims “never will I integrate” amidst sampled black power speeches, he’s not calling for separatism but resolving to stand firm in his culture and be himself, whoever that turns out to be.
Things wrap up on a positive note as the optimistic “All” segues into a schmaltzy ballad called “Chasin’ Dreams,” dreams that are on hold until Blackk graduates.
“Music will continue to be a hobby,” he said, “until it becomes a career.”
In the meantime, he’s working on an album with legendary producer J. Rawls, another guy who’s taking Blackk seriously these days. Sign me up for the listening party.