It might be too easy to pigeonhole The Black Keys’ musical identity as a pair of working-class rockers from Akron, Ohio whose distinct blues-rock flavor distinctly outlines their product. Don’t let the obvious influences of blues-rock luminaries such as Muddy Waters fool the ear. Hip-Hop plays just as important a role in the Keys’ tunes as men like Waters. As evidenced by 2009’s successful Blakroc album, the Hip-Hop culture runs deep in these Northeast Ohioans’ veins. Although their smash hit “I Got Mine” received its own Hip-Hop interpretation via Ski Beatz, their seven studio albums provide further room for lyrical co-habitation. From their debut, The Big Come Up, to their latest LP, the Grammy-winning Brothers, here are each album’s tracks best suited for an MC appearance.
Song: “Brooklyn Bound” from The Big Come Up (2002)
Desired MCs: Talib Kweli and Notorious B.I.G.
“Brooklyn Bound” exemplifies the Keys’ best early work: raw, rough-and-tumble blues recorded humbly on an 8-track player in Auerbach’s basement. The song is a testament to the band’s desire to part ways with an unworthy lover: using Brooklyn as the desired location for their newfound independence. Utilizing the vaunted borough as the song’s destination, providing two of the most prolific MCs to ever step out of BKNY would be the best remedy for Hip-Hop’s inclusion on the track. Biggie made a name for himself rhyming over sparse, boom-bap samples and scratches.
The gritty instrumentation of “Brooklyn Bound” would be the best avenue for a lifted, remixed verse. Although Kweli’s best work appears courtesy of soulful samples, “Brooklyn Bound” creates enough heavy riffs for an unorthodox Talib verse. It also doesn’t hurt that Kweli knows plenty about jilted lovers to provide his own interpretation on the Keys’ original lyrics of “well I’m leavin’ you, babe, and say ‘fare you well’/well I’m going out east, darlin’, I hope you burn in Hell.”
Song: “Thickfreakness” from Thickfreakness (2003)
Desired MC: Danny Brown
Crazy is as crazy does. So enlisting the services of D-town Danny Brown to supply his maniacal lyrical prowess over “Thickfreakness” only seems right. This track, full of devil-may-care Auerbach slaying numerous guitar strings, would suit the Detroit MC to a tee; the obvious Rust Belt connection is extra incentive. “Thickfreakness” would provide a slightly slower, noisier beat than Brown is used to. Nevertheless, his oddball subject material would fit the crazed riffs while his high-pitched yell would match the escalating strings and percussion. Hell, even the Keys’ original track title would be zany enough to match the charismatic Linwood resident’s persona.
Song: “Till I Get My Way” from Rubber Factory (2004)
Desired MC: Yelawolf
An energetic presence needs to commandingly direct its movement in order to match the concluding track’s fervent energy off the Keys’ third studio album. In comes Yeller to provide that rambunctious flow to situate itself against the loud, distorted guitar and shattering cymbal. Some would question how the Southern spitter’s rapid-fire delivery would fair away from a Burn One beat. However DJ Wick-It’s Brothers/Big Boi mash-up album put to rest any doubts that a Catfish Billy and Black Key collaboration couldn’t work.
The pace of “Till I Get My Way” is slow enough for Yela to run his lyrical circles without bogging down the listener with too much stylistic abrasion. And, as a professed fan of Lynyrd Skynyrd and classic rock ‘n’ roll, a Black Keys track would be the next logical—although unorthodox—step in the Alabama MC’s progression.
Song: “Meet Me In The City” from Chulahoma (2006)
Desired MC: Big K.R.I.T.
The Keys’ 2006 EP, Chulahoma, isn’t a body of original work. Instead, it’s a compilation of tribute covers to the late Mississippi blues man Junior Kimbrough. Kimbrough helped popularize Fat Possum: the blues-catering record label that would later sign the Keys. He created the original “Meet Me In the City” and, as a musical Gulf State luminary, would only benefit from the fellow Mississippian’s appearance.
“Meet Me In the City” would be a change of pace from K.R.I.T.’s adherence to Southern-fried big bass. The slow, sensuous texture of The Black Keys’ remake would provide a soothing instrumentation for K.R.I.T.’s conscious rhyming. It would be an interesting departure from popular K.R.I.T. tracks such as “Return of 4eva” and “Glass House.” But the new sonic scenery could make for another highly enjoyable K.R.I.T. final product.
Song: “Give Your Heart Away” from Magic Potion (2006)
Desired MC: Jay-Z
NOE delivered his best Jigga impression on the Blakroc project but it just wasn’t the man they call “HOV.” In order to capitalize on the Jay-Z sound-a-like, why not actually throw Jay on a Black Keys track instead of Dame pawning an ersatz copy on the project’s fans? The grimy blues chords at the track’s beginnings eventually catapult into cascading drums and guitar that would defiantly accentuate the street-wise lyrics of Mr. Roc Nation. Think of Jay contributing lines like those from the disturbingly descriptive “Friend Or Foe” over the gritty instrumentation of “Give Your Heart Away” and Marcy Projects’ prodigal son would secure the Keys’ track a proper remake.
Song: “Psychotic Girl” from Attack & Release (2008)
Desired MC: Freddie Gibbs
“Oil Money,” featuring Gibbs and Auerbach, didn’t do the collaboration full justice when Freddie’s Str8 Killa EP dropped last summer. There’s another level that the Baby-Faced Killer can ascend with an actual Keys backdrop. The group’s eerie 2008 track, “Psychotic Girl,” is the track that could make the collaboration a tremendous success. The dark banjo strums accentuate, expectantly, a woman with a few too many screws loose in her dome. It provides the beat necessary for Gibbs to drop some of the devilish verses he has been known to spit concerning the opposite sex’s chemical imbalances.
Imagine the dark bars of a track like “Sumthin’ U Should Know” leading the lyrical way on a “Psychotic Girl” remake. Things would only get crazier as the strings slowly putter out during the track’s conclusion. It’s a wonder the Black Keys haven’t teamed up with G.I.’s own more frequently. The I-80 connection between Gary and the Cleveland/Akron metropolitan area should become more of a Rust Belt musical calling card than a large piece of cement cutting a swath through the Great Lakes region.
Song: “Ohio” from Brothers (2010)
Desired MC: Stalley
Stalley has already proven that he can stand toe-to-toe on a track by his 330 brethren as he has already appeared on the Blakroc album on “I Got Mine.” However the Keys’ bonus track “Ohio” from their latest LP serves as the perfect outlet for the two acts to express their love and respect for their home region. “Ohio” builds for one of Auerbach’s tastiest guitar riffs of all-time and Stalley’s calm delivery promises the introspective juxtaposition that only he can provide.
As evidenced by his inclusion on the aforementioned Blackroc “I Got Mine,” the Massillon Tiger can elevate his flow to the background of heavy instrumentals. While fellow Northeast Ohio MC Chip Tha Ripper could also work on the track with his cool delivery, his inclusion wouldn’t fully embrace the Canton-Massillon-Akron ethos that would best suit a Hip-Hop remake of the record.