b. Alva Burton, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. Adopting a name that is an acronym for Born Love Allah’s Kingdom, Burton creates hip-hop that simultaneously distances itself from the mainstream and underground scenes. Rather, Baby Blak self-describes himself as ‘the middle ground’, claiming to ‘make adult music for people with responsibilities, people that deal with everyday life’. Blak started rapping at 14, apparently after failed experiments with graffiti (he could not paint on vertical surfaces) and break dancing (he broke his leg). He launched his career as one-half of Philadelphia-based crew ILL Advised, alongside Mr. Lish. A serial collaborator, Baby Blak worked with DJ Babu, DJ Sat-One, Grand Agent and DJ Jazzy Jeff (appearing on four tracks on the latter’s The Magnificent) prior to the release of his 2003 debut, Once You Go Blak. The album featured production from Evidence (Dilated Peoples), Newcleus, Joey Chavez, Jay-Ski, Sat-One and, predominantly, DJ Revolution. The rapper was astute enough to question the usual obsessions of ‘bling bling’ hip-hop, notably, on ‘Diamonds (Diemon)’, wondering why rap stars cover themselves in precious stones: ‘You wear the blood of your people on your neck and your wrist/I said the blood of your people/Ain’t no love for your people/South African government put slugs in my people so ya platinum chain can have a stud you can see through’. Meanwhile, the narrative of ‘Daddy Dearest’ told of an alcoholic father while ‘Economix’ explored the economic aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center. Nevertheless, Baby Blak is not an entirely reconstructed rapper, and an album sleeve featuring a naked female might suggest a contradiction in his aesthetics. Still, Blak is, for the most part, an engaging and subtle (if occasionally smug and prosaic) rapper.
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