Hot Luck Review: Blackillac

Dynamic rap duo ready for prime time

Blackillac's Phranchyze and Zeale (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

I came to Barracuda hungry. Given that Saturday night’s Blackillac appearance was programmed as part of the culinary carousal known as Hot Luck, “Playback” banked on munching on some innovative snacks, but there was nary a kabob, taco, or slider in sight. Fortunately, my guts also panged for music.

A mixed menu slated rock as the appetizer for a hip-hop headliner. Blood Pumps, whose 2017 debut was fittingly titled America & Burgers, fired up a fascinating set that, at times, positioned the quartet as a heavy garage version of Dire Straits fronted by a groovy sing-speak street poet à la Lou Reed. That’s bassist/vocalist Bill Stevenson, best known as the low end for Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, but a stellar songman in his own right. Over the rock solid drumming of Jordan Cook, Stevenson’s strutting verses were intersected by atypical and hair-raising riffs and solos from offsetting Stratocaster hangers Mike Brinley and Joe Lewis, who damn near burned the place down.

Except the crowd hardly noticed. Blood Pumps was woefully underappreciated by an audience hovering near the back bar, loosening their belts as they digested flamed meats from the preceding Al Fuego event. It wasn’t your typical horde of Austin music heads – many seemed like frat boys who recently launched their first fusion restaurant – so Blackillac soon inciting them to dance in front of the stage was a testament to their powers as performers. They’re allergic to bad shows.

The duo of South Austin born-n-raised rappers Phranchyze and Zeale, who’ve drawn loads of attention since they began performing as Blackillac in February, casts a wide appeal – boasting the primal staccato hooks of rap’s modern wave, while trading off expansive and energetic verses that can ring heads of hip-hop purists. With duo dynamics that could be considered Outkast-ian: Zeale comes off as a versatile showman, while Phranchyze reigns as a true G.

Their penchant for memorable, and often chantworthy, refrains proved transcendent on Saturday. “I can kill it with the vibe. I can kill it with the kicks,” Phranchyze asserted, before Zeale fired back: “I can kill it with the rhymes I can kill it in the mix.”

While the Golden State Warriors were routing the Houston Rockets in the NBA playoffs, Blackillac dished several tracks on the unpretentious topic of basketball, stating themselves as champions with the Jordan-baiting hook “I don’t even need six rings!” Later, Zeale initiated a verbal pickup game with Phran, saying “I’ll be the point guard. You be that tall nigga,” before launching into a track ostensibly called “Gimme the Rock.”

Blackillac’s 90-minute set, their first with a drummer and keyboard backing, peaked with a four-course freestyle session that was equally impressive in content and duration. What seemed miraculous to the cameraphone-wielding audience was long conditioned. Phranchyze and Zeale have been exchanging improvised bars in cyphers since adolescence.

A commanding live act, appetite now builds for Blackillac’s recordings – some of which were crafted by friend Gary Clark Jr. – to hit market. As Saturday’s show proved, they’re ready for prime time.

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Blackillac, Hot Luck, Phranchyze, Zeale, Blood Pumps, Barracuda, Jordan Cook, Joe Lewis, Bill Stevenson, Gary Clark Jr., Mike Brinley

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