“Well, I respect your ambition, Willie, but you got to have vision.”
And so begins the track Mrmr, off Roy Kinsey’s excellent album Blackie: A Story by Roy Kinsey. A record that draws inspiration, outrage, and meditation from the full sweep of Black history in America, including Blaxploitation films like “Willie Dynamite” that is the source of this quote.
It has taken me nine months since the February 2018 release of this record to write about it. Why? Because it is one of the most powerful albums I heard all year…and I didn’t want to quick-fire off a trifling piece about music with this much depth, intention, and craft.
Blackie is the 4th studio album by Roy Kinsey, a Chicago-born, queer-identified, rapper and librarian. Kinsey made the album while researching his family history following his maternal grandmother’s death in 2016 and there is no doubt this is an utter passion project. The tightly constructed thematic album that tells a cohesive story, covering the effects of racism, the Great Migration, addiction, violence, mental illness, and sexuality — all through the lens of Kinsey’s family and his own non-conforming artistic perspective.
2018 has seen a lot of introspective, thoughtful hip-hop albums — from underground and indie groups (e.g. fellow Chicago artist Saba; Buddy; Milo; Mick Jenkins; and Henry Canyons, previously featured on WtMM) to more commercially successful artists as well (e.g. Mac Miller before his tragic death (RIP); Black Thought; and Jay Rock). Blackie holds its own against all of the above releases and, with it, Kinsey carves out his own space in narrative, storytelling rap: deeply personal and reflective with multiple nods to history and a clear eye on the current cultural, socio-political moment. As he raps, also in the standout track Mrmr, “I made an album from internal screams / Made black gold from the ugliest things”
Musically, Kinsey is similarly expansive-but-deft on the record in his beat selection and the musical styles he pulls in. The album overall is anchored solidly in jazz, but there’s blues, funk, AfroBeat, gritty rap, melodic rap, and even hypnotic trip-hop…like on the head-nodding Rbg. As wide-ranging as they are, the diverse musical references fit together to help tighten the storylines, while also keeping the ear engaged with tempo and mood changes, slick samples, and the occasional hooky chorus. Oh yeah…and Roy can spit too.
Heading into the home stretch of 2018 and starting to think back on the year-in-music, I’m pretty clear on what proved to be the good-but-one-off tracks vs. the singles and full albums with staying power; the ones I keep returning to again-and-again. Blackie is near the top of that latter list and I swear it gets better and more interesting on each new listen.