Chances are you’ve heard B L A C K I E, even if the stylized name doesn’t ring a bell at first. The artist–once described as a “one-man noise ordinance” by the New York Times –is the textbook definition of immersive performance art. The solo artist is completely in your face with melodic baritone spits, gritty, guttural noise punk-rap that blows hearts and brains, with a volume that rivals Swans’ arsenal of amplifiers or My Bloody Valentine’s noise-assailing sets.
The man behind the all-caps-with-spaces moniker, Michael LaCour, came from humble beginnings–performing anywhere he could, from house parties to block parties. These stints led to LaCour morphing into one of Houston’s most revered noise pioneers, infamous for bringing his own speakers into spaces, many times unannounced, and plunging into sets both annihilating and captivating. Ask any Houstonian–noise-rap no-shows Death Grips and the media’s favorite misfit, Kanye West, have B L A C K I E to thank for perfecting their art and sound.
We caught up with B L A C K I E the day before he kicks off his tour and talked about voodoo, LL Cool J, and family history in advance of his Shea Stadium show on Saturday.
Thanks for chatting with us before tour! What are you up to today?
Well, I’m going on tour. I start in New Orleans tomorrow. Last time I played there it was crazy. It was like a house. Sometimes New Orleans is weird. I guess it depends.
When was your “this is it” moment with music?
Man, my sister just told me she found some old home videos of me being real young, just a little kid, rapping LL Cool J and jumping off of crap. I remember that stuff. “Mama Said Knock You Ouuuuut!” It’s like … dang, I’m about to go on tour. I’ve been doing the same thing since I was a little boy. It’s kind of messed up. I still remember it. I don’t know why. When you’re young, someone like Will Smith or LL Cool J sounds hardcore.
Totally. Whatever happened to LL Cool J? I feel like he disappeared.
Yeah! I feel like a lot of those dudes, musicians, actors, some of them do. Like Eddie Murphy, or Martin Lawrence. You never hear about them. Or they’re just so rich and they think they don’t need to come out of their house anymore. I think LL Cool J hosts some TV show now, though. I remember hearing my mom talking about it.
How have you been preparing before tour?
Hmm. Today I was sleeping a lot. I guess because I’ve been driving a lot–I just got back from doing a ton of shows with Zorch, and I’ve been driving all night. So once I get back home I’ve been sleeping all day. I know that musicians sleep all day and aren’t productive, but I’m not like that. I’m hella productive.
Does that productivity stem from your personality? Are you the type of person that likes to stay busy?
Not really, I’m just real serious about the things I gotta do. Cause I got a kid now, so I don’t like to screw around too much. I go to work, I show up early. I go on tour, I show up to the club like two hours early. I’m always an early bird. I was just telling my wife, it’s kind of funny. I’ll play a house show and the show itself will be crazy. People will be bleeding because they got hit in the face. It’s a real rowdy time. But before she show I’m just sitting in a corner, and after the show I’m just sitting outside. I’m not a party kind of person. When it’s time for music to happen, I get real active and crazy.
Have people assumed you’re this manic sort of person because of how rowdy your live shows are?
That’s kind of what being on tour is. On an underground level … I’m not Tommy Lee or nothing, but parties–some kids want merch, they’ll trade you pills for merch. You see girls … they want something from you, people offer you weed, alcohol, drugs. I’m not straight edge, but I’m kind of in that realm of being anti-drug, anti- a lot of that stuff.
That’s pretty responsible, especially for a tour setting.
Yeah, man! I gotta get to the next city, so I can’t get caught up in that, or get screwed over because I was trying to party or something. I’m there for one reason–destroy the spot, get to the next spot, destroy the next one.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about B L A C K I E out there?
Some people say my music promotes violence, or is championed by like meatheads. I’m not about that at all. I like when I look out and see when there’s a girl crowd-surfing and elbowing people, you know? I’m like equal opportunity–anybody can get hurt and have fun at my shows. I don’t like to see big football type dudes jumping on people, you know? I like to see everyone getting into it.
I’m just a person making music. I mean, it don’t matter what you think of me, because I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. I’ve been rapping LL Cool J since I was five. Now I’m creepin’ on up in age and I’m not gonna stop.
When you first started out making music, did you ever imagine people would be bleeding and going absolutely nuts at your shows?
Not at the very beginning. Once I saw how my friends were reacting, I thought ‘Man, this is going to get people to move around, this is going to be cool.’ I had this vision –this is really weird, I’ve never told anybody this. I made a song, and thought about one of my friends. He’s this big Mexican kid. I thought then, when my homie hears this he’s going to flip. And like months later, there was a concert and he happened to be there (he’s from out of town). I played that track, and whatever I had visualized in my mind–he did the exact thing! It was like déjà vu or something. It spooked me out. I hit the beat, and I just imagined this big Mexican homie jumping off the stage, not looking, flattening everybody, and that’s exactly what he did! Maybe I just know him because he’s my friend, but it was weird to see it happen exactly. It happens a lot with me. I’m from Louisiana and my family is all from there. I don’t know, there’s some weird voodoo stuff happening.
I had no idea your family was from Louisiana. How long have you guys been in Houston for?
I was born in La Porte [Texas], so I’ve been there my whole life. My parents were born in Louisiana, so we’re all Creole. It’s kind of weird, there are books on our town. I know Oprah went to our town. The story is basically like … this rich dude came to Louisiana, and he met this African woman, fell in love with her, had a whole family with her as well as a white family. When he died he gave a lot of land to the African woman and her family. So my family is both her descendants, and that French man’s descendants. So like, if the Civil War had never happened, our family would be up there with the Rockefellers or some weird royalty type shit. Because of slavery and land and the way things went down, because the Civil War and all the segregation laws, we just became black folks again. But for a brief period, because we had the French slavemaster giving us all the land, we were kind of ballin’ out for a couple hundred years. So there are still plantations that our family owned, and you can visit them. But it’s weird, because, of course, fuck slavery! But then you find out, ‘Oh, I’m black and my family owned slaves.’ But it was cool because we were buying slaves that were our relatives–then setting them free later. The whole story is twisted up. It’s crazy.
Whoa, that’s quite a story. Did Oprah visit plantations when she went?
I don’t think so. It’s on a lake, and every Christmas they have a big light festival. It’s a small Louisiana town, they filmed Steel Magnolias there, that movie with Dolly Parton. So it’s this cliché Louisiana town where we can kick it, eat some French Creole food.
Do you still cook Creole food?
My mom used to make all that stuff, but once my dad died she said, ‘I’m never making that stuff ever again. You’re old enough now!’ She just stopped cooking all that shit, everyone did. My grampa did, grandma … me and my son are the last LaCours on our side of the whole family. I never go back much, I just kick it with my cousin. He’s a painter, he’s famous. He’s schooling me on that. My family is pretty much all dead.
Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.
How do you think you’ve evolved since you first started to record?
I like the way it’s gone, especially with the last album. I’ve been able to say everything I want to say, and do it on my own, which I feel is very crucial. I still do everything on my own mostly, it’s starting to build now though. Like I’m going back to Europe in the fall, which will be cool. I have a booking agent now.
The music itself, I just feel like I want to keep building it. I feel a lot of different ways about what’s going on right now, with hip-hop and black culture in general. I feel like being young and black and making new music is very important. I don’t want to diss any other races, but black people suffer so much in this country. And so it’s our responsibility to create greatness. That’s the only obligation I feel. Whatever I make, I don’t want to sound like anyone else in the history of music. Ever. It’s a totally new. If I can make a new rock and roll, and it’s totally unheard of, I’ll do it today. It’s about making a new thing.
Do you see hip hop culture, as a whole, headed in a positive direction?
It’s hard to say. There’s so many different cities, reasons, artists. I like a lot of that super gangster shit that’s coming out right now. Some people bash it, like ‘It’s bad, this dude is talking about violence.’ But I love that. Because before then, no one was talking about it. Now everybody’s talking about it. Chief Keef, Fat Trel, all those cats making that gangster stuff … that speaks to me because it’s putting it in a lot of people’s faces, you know? Like all the older groups, that’s all it was. It was like a wake up. We’re not saying it’s right or wrong.
My friend who was born in Brooklyn was 8 when Fear of a Black Planet came out. And he remembers that. He remembers that album, because that was the same year he saw someone get murdered in the street. These sorts of things just tie all this shit together. And so people bash hip-hop and say it promotes violence, drugs–at some point, it’s not promoting shit. It’s just keeping it real.
And that’s what I’m all about. I’m not trying to change anything I’m doing. I don’t like the commercial stuff. But any artist keeping it real about where they’re from–that’s art, that’s beyond rap. He didn’t put guns or drugs in his neighborhood. They were there when he was born.
It has been effective in bringing up important conversations about racism, misogyny. One that comes to mind too is Yeezus, which I’m sure you’ve heard people talking about how it sounds eerily like you…
I know people that know people with connections, and what I’m hearing right now is that Kanye was listening to me in the studio. You know, I do this thing by myself. To me, I’m just trying to do my thing, feed my son. Man, and then they said they were listening to you in the studio. That sort of thing gets my head clicking. Just shout me out! If they don’t want to rep it, they don’t.
You can’t misuse what someone else created with good intentions. I’m just trying to create new music, period. Anybody trying to do something else besides something pure, it’s going to go sour. I created it out of purity, what I was seeing, with my friends. It’s cool. I just want to be myself. People can sound like my old stuff, or try to do whatever. But if I’m being me they can’t do that.
Have you been working on new music of late?
Yeah, I’ve actually been working on a lot of new music. I’m playing a lot of instruments, so it’s kicking around in my brain. I had this real strange dream–it wasn’t telling me to do anything. The dream put the information straight in my brain, like a plan, and just left it there. And I woke up and that was it. It was very weird because I never dream like that. So for something to just zap a blueprint in my brain, that’s kind of special. I’m just going to have to roll with that one.
Can you tell me a little bit about the dream without spoiling it?
Nah, I can’t. My wife asked me, my homies did…that’s part of it, it said “Don’t tell nobody.” I’m not even supposed to mention it! I’m already screwing up.
B L A C K I E performs with Limb, Unstoppable Death Machines and Weird Womb at Shea Stadium this Saturday, August 10. $8. Doors at 8 p.m.