One of Canada’s most celebrated musicians, known for blending hip-hop and rock together, has put out a double album relegating each genre to their own disc. Is the album worth more than the sum of its parts?
2.5 / 10
How BLack On BLonde looks on paper depends on how you regard k-os. His biggest fans will likely jump all over this, thankful that the man who has split his time between hip-hop and rock has made an album that allows him to indulge both genres separately. I took a different approach to this news—abject terror. k-os is not a particularly talented rapper, producer, or technical musician, but in his past releases, he was smart enough to combine his tastes into one sound that, in his best moments, made for exciting listening. Upbeat hip-hop numbers were slammed next to effective slow jams, but the end result was usually better than that implies due to his dedication to nurturing a bigger sound. BLack On BLonde, however, is a double-album whose overall runtime clocks in at just over an hour and relegates his hip-hop and rock songs to their own discs. I feared that the end result would be a CD full of shitty hip-hop songs and a CD full of shitty rock songs. Sometimes, I hate being right.
That the rock half of the album is a failure is little surprise—we’ve heard enough attempts in recent years by hip-hop heads to make rock music (WZRD, Lil Wayne’s Rebirth, everything by Hollywood Undead—please don’t make me go on) that we not only know how often the prospect fails but how it usually fails. k-os, like so many of his hip-hop contemporaries who tried their hand in rock, spends this half of the album wallowing in the genre’s cliches. Leadoff single “The Dog Is Mine” has k-os doing an impression of Lenny Kravitz, who is a Jimi Hendrix imitator, and that this is one of the best songs on either album should indicate how low the bar is. There are songs about being in love with a girl (“Don’t Touch”), songs about getting it on with a girl (“Alone In My Car”), and songs in which k-os tries to sound like other bands (“Put Down Your Phone!” and “Play This Game” sound like Bloc Party and Black Eyed Peas, respectively), and those are the highlights when compared to the overly-simplistic jams like “Don’t Touch” and “Billy Bragg Winners”. The closest this half of the album gets to another highlight is “Wonder Woman (As My Guitar Gently Streets)”, and I liked that song so much more when the Wu-Tang Clan did it five years ago. The rest of this stuff is predictably undercooked rock that would have gotten immediately shit on if k-os didn’t command so much respect.
For me, though, the hip-hop disc is even worse despite suffering from many of the same problems. That k-os’s attempt at making rock music failed is little surprise, but for a guy who posits himself as an alternative artist, most of the beats on the hip-hop disc sound engineered to appeal to as many demographics as possible. The shitty electro-strut and vaguely-sweet hooks contained on most of these songs sound like something that belongs on Lupe Fiasco’s Lasers, and k-os’s vocal performance is nothing to write home about. He has never been the sort of rapper you’d go to for great lines, and this half of BLack On BLonde is no exception, but even the guests don’t bring much to the table. One doesn’t expect much out of Travie McCoy, but that we get as much out of him as we do Black Thought isn’t because McCoy has suddenly become a fantastic rapper.
I tried my best to get into this album, but the closest I came to genuinely enjoying myself was on “Nobody Else”, a Michael Jackson-aping tune that remains the hip-hop disc’s lone highlight, and even that song contains a terrible outro. BLack On BLonde is a self-impressed mess that I’d sooner file next to Of Montreal’s Paralytic Stalks than Atlantis: Hymns for Disco. I’ve heard arguments that k-os was going for a throwback sound on this album, with each song representing an aspect of the history of hip-hop or rock, but I don’t buy that because I like both genres and BLack On BLonde features the worst aspects of both genres. So either k-os secretly hates the music he is making or this album is full of terrible material. This is easily the man’s worst album, and I hope this is the worst music I’ll hear all year—otherwise, 2013 is going to be painful.