Black Knights- Medieval Chamber
Imagine how funny it’d be if instead it was Anthony Kiedis rapping over RZA beats. Like the usual mandatory opening martial arts movie sample, a few bars of haunted piano over gritty boom bap, and then Abracadabralifornia, I drink an Alabama slammer with your sexy ass grandma. Oh man I forget when I laugh too hard sometimes I get the hiccups. That’s good stuff though. Thankfully the gods have shown mercy on us however and instead what we have here is Wu Tang Clan affiliate duo Black Knights dealing their grimy Sac Cal sludge over John Frusciante production that collides golden age RZA darkness with Deltron-esque futurism. It’s like Shaolin 3030 up in here.
The cover of Medieval Chamber displays the interior of a medieval castle in grim black and white, providing an apt aesthetic reference for the music within. A bear fur lays spread out across a fancy tile floor. To the left of it an elegant furniture set up sits atop a giant antique rug, with natural light pouring in through the flanking doorway and filling the high castle ceilings. It’s almost like an episode of MTV cribs or some description by Drake of his personal mansion. Almost. Because behind all the aristocratic decor are two stark black corridors framed by stone gothic arches, a bleak reminder that this isn’t set in the glitz and glamour of twenty-first century hip hop, this is medieval times, the Dark Age. And Frusciante’s production shapes this open architectural space through simple effects that in the context of contemporary hip hop seem completely unorthodox. Where today’s go to production tricks would suggest screwing the vocals he instead piles on the reverb. Where today’s hooks normally pop out he instead buries them in the mix á la My Bloody Valentine. Similar left field references can be found throughout. The Joust has a bridge featuring zig-zaggin piano that recalls the angular rhythms of Thelonious Monk, while Trickfingers Playhouse finds him reintroducing the breakbeats he dabbled with on his last solo effort, PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone.
With the passing of Doc Doom in 2007 Black Knights were rendered a duo of emcees, and as crippling a loss as it is to the group they play well off the schizophrenic mic passing, often coming across more siamese than binary. On Deja Vu they recall Bake Sale era Cool Kids with Crisis and the Rugged Monk mimicking the laid back fluidity of Chuck Inglish and Mikey Rocks at their best. But for the most part throughout the album their rhyming style leans more to the past than the present, favoring gritty bar for bar rhyming over melody, humorous punch lines, and ad libs.
And that strict refrain from melody from Crisis and Monk allow for John’s vocals on each chorus, which constantly walk a tightrope between angelic and apparitional, to contrast beautifully such as on highlight Sword in Stone where he offers There’s A Riot Goin’ On soul over big Rick Rubin drums (the dude did produce almost every ‘classic’ RHCP album). In fact the only place on the album where the Frusc-Black Knights collab sounds out of place is on John’s weird neo-prog bridge on Deja Vu, refusing to blend with the rest of the song like oil to water. But apart from that it’s an electro-grime wonderland, and should come as no surprise. John said once in an interview that he wrote Dani California because he had been listening to Enter the Wu Tang: 36 Chambers non stop and wanted to write a song with the rhythms RZA had used all over it. He then joked as to how it ended up sounding more Sweet Home Alabama than Bring Da Ruckus, but whatever, I heard RZA was really into Second Coming back in the early nineties anyways. So after this and his work on various RZA projects I think all that’s keeping him from being an official Wu member is a Wu name. But that’s what the internet’s for. Sarkastic Lover it is.