IT’S NO GREAT SECRET that the Houston hip-hop scene is home to more than its fair share of imitators. The syrupy funk of regional superstars like UGK and the Screwed Up Click still looms large in the humid gaps between the city’s towering freeway overpasses, and young hustlers from the Northside to MacGregor Park are happy to ape the local style on trunk-loads of homemade CDs.
The scene’s musical talent pool, however, is far deeper than the copycats might suggest — and every so often, something unexpected burbles up to the surface. That’s how an independent artist steeped in H-Town’s still-vital rap underground rose to become one of the most eccentric and original musicians in Texas.
B L A C K I E (aka Michael LaCour) isn’t a rapper, exactly — at least, not anymore. It’s hard to say what he is, precisely, but “one-man psychedelic freakout transmitted via ultrasonic interference” gets us somewhere in the ballpark. For the past 10 years, he’s been blazing a shockingly noisy and expressive path through the hippest parts of Houston and the world, pumping out enough deconstructive amplification to finally demolish the Astrodome.
This isn’t the sort of music one makes to get girls. It’s a violent, howling outlet that LaPorte native LaCour has been drifting toward for most of his life.
“Ever since I was 10, I’ve been in, like, the school band and doing that kind of stuff,” LaCour says. “Then I started playing in punk bands when I was a teenager. Then in instrumental math-rock bands after that. After all those bands broke up, I just got tired of relying on other people to be in a band. I started doing more solo stuff, just focusing on music I’d already been making in between all that.”
When he was starting out on his own, his creations sounded like a recognizable outgrowth of hip-hop — albeit one untethered to the genre’s conventions and wedded to the fury of hardcore punk. But left to his own devices, LaCour quickly started coming up with strange, screeching new expressions that defied easy categorization, let alone explanation. It certainly wasn’t rap music. Occasionally, it didn’t feel much like music at all. The primal sonic blasts that B L A C K I E found himself firing were rather unlike anything that had been heard before, and his self-released recordings began turning ears among fans of noise and outré hip-hop as quickly as they could spread.
In the years hence, B L A C K I E tapes and records have become a hot commodity for underground collector types. As his ear-crushing style spawned appropriators, the artist moved on to new sounds faster than they could follow, like on last year’s jazzy LP opus, IMAGINE YOUR SELF IN A FREE AND NATURAL WORLD.
Even as his legend has grown, LaCour remains proudly independent, still self-producing and releasing his own music in the manner of H-Town hip-hop icons such as K-Rino and DJ Screw. That’s made him a folk hero to some, but B L A C K I E isn’t doing it this way for the sake of authenticity.
“That just came out of necessity,” LaCour says. “Nobody was going to put it out. You’re sitting there waiting for some record deal or for somebody to help you, and nobody comes and helps you. It just clicked with me, ‘Well, I like what I made, even if nobody else does. So I’ll just do what I can do, and figure out the best way to do it.’”
Playback is hardly the best way to experience B L A C K I E anyway. The most unfettered manifestation of LaCour’s gospel is his live performance. B L A C K I E shows are an intensely physical affair. Backed by his own titanic array of PAspeakers, the artist has made a worldwide reputation for himself by stomping, sweating, screaming and crawling through psychic self-exorcisms on stage. It doesn’t always translate perfectly to record.
“My sound system is still so heavy that you can’t really record it right,” LaCour explains. “You can’t really get that kind of feeling properly. It’s hard to capture.”
To the uninitiated, the strange live spectacle can be a baffling sight to behold, let alone enjoy. But a small and rabid fanbase can be found surrounding B L A C K I E everywhere he goes, completely lost in the sheer sonic overload. It’s these people — many of whom can’t quite put a finger on why they love B L A C K I E’s music so much — that LaCour wrings himself out to reach.
“I ain’t really trying to encourage people to beat each other up,” LaCour says. “I’m just trying to give people who wouldn’t normally scream and let that shit out an opportunity to rage. Everybody deserves a chance to have catharsis. It took me years to understand that totally, because I’m not really into the violence of it. But I’m into people letting some shit out for a second in the right environment.”
Lately, LaCour has taken to live instrumentation in his shows. On his fall tour, he exclusively performed new tracks composed of strange, free-noise saxophone exhortations. Far better horn-blowers than B L A C K I E can make the instrument wail and sing to express themselves beautifully. But Michael LaCour, his eyes closed tightly and his cheeks puffing obscenely, is the only one making it scream.
The music can’t be listened to passively. It demands a response, and B L A C K I E enjoys the reactions he’s been getting.
“I just went on an East Coast tour, and it was probably the most successful one I’ve been on, because I wasn’t playing any of the old songs,” LaCour says. “Just the saxophone stuff. People were getting it; they were freaking out. Every night, my homie who was riding with me, Andrew Lee — he plays in a bunch of bands, like the Wild Moccasins and the Tontons — was like, ‘Yo, Mike, these people love you man, it’s crazy!’ And I was just looking at him confused, too, like, ‘Yeah, man, I don’t believe it either!’”
Even with his fans ready to follow him to the bleeding edges of Free Noise, though, B L A C K I E still finds ways to surprise them. This fall, he dropped a new hip-hop EP with rappers Stony Hawk and SVNS under the name Black Blades. A far cry from the experimental solo works he’s become infamous for, the new record finds B L A C K I E rhyming over head-nodding beats once again. It’s a remarkably easygoing bit of music from a guy better known for vein-popping intensity.
“It’s hella loose, man, when I’m with my friends,” LaCour says. “I’ve known these dudes a long time. When I do my solo stuff, I take it real serious. I’m trying to break through all the society, all the everything. But when I’m rapping with my friends, because I’ve known them so long, it’s like there’s no thought at all. I’m just rapping with my friends again, just like old times.”
LaCour may reserve the right to cut loose with his buds, but don’t expect him to stick with the throwback style for long. Frankly, it’s best that you don’t expect anything at all. B L A C K I E is dedicated to shaking the faith of music lovers, and the shifting sounds he uses to expose new possibilities will go where they must to keep listeners alert and engaged.
“I just want everybody to wake the fuck up,” LaCour says. “There’s a lot of fucked-up shit going on. There always is, but just because there’s so much fucked-up shit going on, don’t turn off. Don’t turn off! Stay the fuck awake!”