P. Blackk’s Multidisciplinary Approach to Hip-Hop

P Blackk

Photos by Jaz Le

If you’ve blinked sometime within the past eight years, you might have missed one of P. Blackk’s myriad creative pursuits. He graduated from Columbus College of Art & Design, became a staff writer for BuzzFeed, started a podcast with his older brother (aptly titled My Brothers Keeper), and amassed 11 Bandcamp projects—all since he was 18 years old. When it comes time to speak about any of this, Blackk frequently halts between sentences—a verbal quirk he calls “malfunctioning mentally.” “One thing that I’ve learned about myself is that I have to internalize things before I can answer it,” he explains. “When I’m stream-of-conscious talking and I’m not certain of where I’m going, I have to pause myself.”

Born Pedro Fequiere Jr. in New Jersey to Haitian-American immigrants, Blackk grew up with the sounds of kompa and classical music playing in his house. His family settled in Columbus, Ohio when he was 13. A few years later, during a Lupe Fiasco concert—or, more specifically, during the opening set by local rap group Fly Union—he had an epiphany. “To see [Fly Union] living in the same area that I was in, it gave me confidence,” he says. “There weren’t really any black folks out there [in Columbus]. It was just refreshing.”

Later, Fly Union co-founder L.e. for the Uncool (now Vada Azeem) would lend Blackk a helping hand when it came time to create “Come Clean,” a track from his first album, Chicken N’ Waffles. Over warbled production, Azeem’s naturally high-pitched vocals provide a perfect contrast to Blackk’s smoky delivery. Another single, “Concorde Rollin’,” with its “balling on a budget” production, became a local staple, a song many fans still consider their introduction to Columbus hip-hop.

After paying homage to his home city on 2010’s It’s Always Sunny in Columbus, Blackk met Canadian rapper-producer Raz Fresco via social media; Fresco persuaded Blackk to join Bakers Club, his rap collective. Friday, A PreludeP. Blackk’s only mixtape cover to bear the Bakers Club logo, is arguably the most ambitious tape of his early career. Album standout “Nothin’ to It” mixes L.A. lowrider G-funk with the smeary cinematic vibe of Bill Gunn’s newly restored 1980 experimental film Personal Problems.

As he was delving into America’s fear of black consciousness on 2011’s Blackk Friday, which was produced by Fly Union’s IYeball, P. Blackk was also preparing to graduate college; the duality between his art education and his passion for hip-hop remains a constant in his career. “I’ve been trying to find a way to marry it completely, where my art and music coexist, but they’re meant to be digested together.”

P-Blackk-600-1

One year after he graduated, Blackk released It’s Always Sunny in Columbus 2, an album studded with highlights On “Penny Hardaway,” J Dilla’s “DFTF” provides the backing track as Blackk makes cracks about subpar cooking skills. Elsewhere, he flips A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Applebum” with former Fly Union members Jerreau and JaySwifa (“The Lust”), and repurposes “Uzuri” by ’70s band Catalyst (“Submuloc Fo Ytic II”).

For Contemporary Nostalgia, an ode to eternal youth that was also released in 2012, Blackk teamed up with producer and DJ J. Rawls, whose resume includes “Brown Skin Lady” and “Yo Yeah” on the classic Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, as well as “What It Means” on Domo Genesis’s Red Corolla. In 2013 and ’14, P. Blackk focused on creating an EP trilogy that would display his personal growth (ONE., TWO., and THREE.). The house track “ZEEYUM!,” on which the rapper compares himself to painter Kehinde Wiley, has a touch of footwork to it; on “Richard,” P. Blackk interpolates Mystikal’s verse on “Make ‘Em Say Uhh!,” and laments a relationship gone sour on “Shot Me Down [H.E.R.] to Untitled.” Underscoring the trilogy’s themes of maturity and new insight, a promotional short created for THREE. depicts an animated version of Blackk unveiling a third eye. The three EPs have a restless tone, offering a glimpse of a young artist in search of himself. After the trilogy’s release, P. Blackk deliberately slowed his frenetic pace; his next album wouldn’t appear for three years. “I took a long break to reassess everything before I moved to L.A.,” he explains.

After the move, P. Blackk slowly began to build a social circle. “Back in Columbus, I was more of a homebody,” he says. “I wouldn’t go out as much. But you have people [in L.A.] who are amazingly talented. The only difference is there’s a spotlight out here.”

One of those new West Coast friends was P. Blackk’s neighbor, the producer Glasscity, who is also from Ohio. Blackk held biweekly recording sessions with Glasscity, where, “We’d get some food, work on some beats, listen to samples, go back and forth with ideas, and then just start making stuff.” 

On his latest album, I Hope All is Well, Blackk blasts off into the cosmos; album intro “Stank Lotion” reverses Thundercat’s “Bus in These Streets” and uses it for spacey background texture. The album is also something of a family affair: Blackk’s mother joins in on the verbal fisticuffs on “Blakyaw, Hell,” and the jazzy “My Brothers Keeper” is an homage to Blackk’s brother.

In March, P. Blackk interviewed Snoop Dogg for BuzzFeed, where his knowledge of hip-hop proved a crucial asset in engaging the legendary rapper. “I didn’t have his undivided attention until I brought up a song that he has with KRS-One on the Neva Left album,” he says. “[Snoop] turned the TV off, looked at me, stopped smoking, and we just started talking about rap shit. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah! I’m a rapper! I can talk to rappers about rap stuff.’” P. Blackk refrains from talking about rap stuff, or any stuff, really, on this spring’s meditative instrumental EP FOUR. Its beats are drawn from the I Hope All is Well sessions, and its track titles are named for the life cycle of a plant (“sunlight,” “carbon dioxide,” “photosynthesis,” etc.). “In my head, I was like, ‘No one’s done this,’” he says, “and then I was like [laughing], ‘MF Doom has definitely done this’.”

Though his time in Columbus still lingers in his memory, Blackk has a fresh perspective on the bright future ahead. “When I was younger, I wanted [my story] to be the story of the kid that blew up,” he says. “Now [where I came from] is a place [from] where I can self-express and try to inform. I don’t have an idea of what my musical legacy is meant to be, it’ll just be what it is.”

-Jaelani Turner-Williams

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