CR Blacks comes with that kind of mellow rap imprinted with a natural charisma that commands attention without demanding it. And his latest project, Tabula Rasa, is a robust example of his artistic approach, making super smooth retro rap tracks all authentically UK.
COZYMag caught up with him to understand the motivations behind the man.
CM: What was the inspiration was behind the name Tabula Rasa?
Blacks: Tabula Rasa is a latin phrase, that translates to “clean slate” in English. After taking a little break to find my sound and master my craft, I felt like a brand new artist…hence the term clean slate, but I like to be difficult as well so I had to find a way to deliver that message without giving too much away. In a couple years time, I want people listening to my music to understand the journey and see the steps I’ve taken.
CM: And what was the mood were you aiming to create throughout the EP?
Blacks: With this EP. I was trying to experiment with different sounds to create a good listening experience. I deliberately kept it short (I’ve got about 20 tracks yet to release tied into several projects) so listeners can get a brief introduction to me as an artist. So I see the EP as a ‘hi my name is CR Blacks *handshakes* to the world’…So in short the vibe I was trying to create was a similar vibe to what the SLOCAL brand does. Smooth beats with a bright percussion and an out of the normapproach.
That energetically artistic approach is evident in “Those Were The Days” which begins Tabula Rasa in a nostalgic fashion, Blacks reminisces on his upbringing through to more recent university years; identify is a key motif of Tabula Rasa and Blacks educates new fans and reminds all listeners that the self is in a state of constant development despite having unforgettable foundations. Camini Boujaii’s soulful vocals enhances the track and Nonsnc’s production provides the perfect backdrop.
“Do My Thing”, produced by South London maestro Selasse, is the lead single from the EP and is an effortlessly catchy tune. Celebrating dedication to ambition whilst keeping a free spirit on the grind is the the feel good foundation of “Do My Thing” and Slocal partner ItsNate and Lost World’s Tee Stone both add their bars to this anthem. “Bounce” is the third song on the EP and takes the vibe in a dynamic direction, all the while maintaining the laid back sound essential to making CR Black’s lyrics hit with maximum impact. Bounce is Tabula Rasa’s turn up track and featuring rapper Rax contributes a strong set of verses to continue the high standards set bon the EP.
“Ten Fingers” instantly transports the listener into a meditative mode, jazzy key scales capture the soulful mood perfectly and CR Blacks fills us in with his conscious aspirational flows. Saluting the roots of New York hip hop, “What You Waiting For” brings the Boom Bap sound to the fore, created by Kz The Producer.
The early days, the grind and life’s trials are all assessed and reasoned in “What You Waiting For”and Blacks showcases his ability to tell stories well whilst also keeping the sound bouncy.
Tabula Rasa ends with the dramatically epic sounds of Strange Numbers. CR Blacks’ speaks on the turbulence of relationships and presents his perspectives via a torrent of flows, some in French to add a definitively different and enhancing element to the track.
CM: So was there a particular part of the project that you enjoyed the most?
Blacks: The part I enjoyed the most…I would say recording the 1st verse of Strange Numbers. When I switch the flows and language, it kinda turned heads a little bit and it catches people off guard up to this day when they listen to the record. Apart from that, Burgundy would probably be my favorite part…I Had a good time making it with friends, from the beats to the verses it was all fun.
CM: For many your French heritage is a core element of your identity so did you find it easy to express this range of cultures in your music?
Blacks: Unfortunately, it took me quite a while to come to grips with mixing French and English in a verse. Strange Numbers was actually the first time I’ve ever done it, I had a writers block about 8 bars into the first verse and for some reason I just started rhyming in French. Gave it a go and it turned out alright, but listening to the EP you’ll hear references to my upbringing in Paris. The Paris that we see on TV is different to the one I experienced growing up, so it felt right to discuss it, also French rap hasn’t really got a distinctive sound at the minute…the market is massive but it’s still searching for a sound.
CM: Now aside from being an artist, you’re also involved in so many other areas of creative expression so how does the whole lifestyle contribute to and help shape the music you make?
Blacks: Man, I love it because it allows to have so many sources of inspiration. I get to help people build a foundation one step at a time, at the same time I get to learn so many different things just by being around the creative processes that these artists (all kinds of artists from painters, to designers, etc..) go through. The lifestyle enables me to see different things, expand my imagination and discuss unexplored themes in my music…the good and the bad, I try to channel all of it positively.
CM: And everyone can see UK hip hop is experiencing a resurgence right now so how do you feel your music contributes to and reflects this scene?
I feel that the scene is really coming up, there’s so many of us making great music and I feel that right now more of us are understanding the steps to take to stand out. The music isn’t enough nowadays, people want to see it all packaged up and delivered to them as a brand. I feel that my music is going to contribute in a way that will open doors for others in the sense that I’m very focused on the international appeal (France, Germany, etc…) to realise that there are gifted musicians over here that won’t conform and stay true to their art.
I’m only getting my feet wet with this project, I’m aiming to be fully submerged so expect a lot more music from me, and it’s coming very soon. Gotta make sure the SLOCAL ship is sailing as that is a very good representation of the scene.
Listen to Tabula Rasa here:
Words by Ranako (@NarkiP)