Spooky Black: Dope, Wack or Kinda Racist? (All of the Above)
One time, on the internet, I was looking for something and I couldn't find it. But then I looked a little bit more, and I found it.
In 2014, an age where every meal is meticulously cataloged on Instagram, every joke beaten into the ground on Twitter and every prank recorded for the annals of history on Vine, it's nearly impossible to find something that can't be found. But while all that information overload has been great for easily looking up Wu-Tang x "Full House" pictures, it's also transformed anyone without an extensive interent presence into a nearly mythological creature, a glitch in the matrix that must be corrected immediately. "What do you mean we don't know who this new artist is? Unacceptable! WE MOST DEVOTE OUR FULL ENERGIES TO FINDING THEM!!!"
That aura of mystery is what first surrounded The Weeknd and fueled some of the initial attention about him, and since then, purposefully concealing a "true" identity has turned into a marketing strategy. (See also, Riff Raff, PARTYNEXTDOOR at first, that white kid whose career so far consists of not denying that he's Nas.) Identity has become another form of content, ready to be rolled out at the ideal time along with the first single, the album art work and the promo video. And truth be told, it's a big part of why I'm writing about Spooky Black now.
For those who don't already know where this is headed, I don't want to rob you of your first, unadulterated Spooky Black experience. Frankly, I'd recommend pressing play, closing your eyes and just listening for the first 30 seconds or so, then opening your eyes. Ready, let's go....
I know what you're thinking. You've got questions, I've got
answers things that are kind of like answers but not really.
Who...Is That Real...Who....I Mean, I Just....Who???
Yes, that music really is coming from that white kid. Or rather, I should say that until I personally watch him record in the booth I won't fully believe it, but either that's really him, or it's an incredibly elaborate hoax consistenly carried out over the course of several videos and at least one full album, "Black Silk".
Biographical details are sketchy, hence that gigantic intro to this piece, but while his Twitter and Facebook offer no clues beyond yes, that's really what he looks like, and yes, he's being purposefully mysterious, the internet seems to agree though that he's a teenager, maybe as young as 15-years-old, from St. Paul Minnesota, and he originally went by the name Lil Spook. Oh, and an ancillary member of the Kardashians is a fan, so he's got that going for him, which is nice.
Am I Crazy, Or Is He Dope?
No, you're not taking crazy pills. Bad news, that "Without You" song is going to be stuck in your head for at least the next 36 hours, you might want to start counting down the minutes now. For someone so young he's got a pretty impressively developed sense of melody, and his sound fits right into the hazy R&B world that The Weeknd championed.
On the other hand, let's be honest, there's definitely some "that crazy looking white kid sounds like that???" bonus points being swung his way. It's only human. When someone does something it doesn't look like they should be able to do, you're more impressed. Did that last sentence make any sense? Probably not, let me turn to my dear old friend the sports analogy.
For example, I look like this, and if you saw me throw down an even mediocre dunk, it woud look kind of insane. LeBron James looks like this. He can throw down a half-hearted dunk in warm ups and it won't look nearly as exciting as my White Men Can't Dunk dunk. But while mine may have been more remarkable because it was more surprising, by every objective measure LeBron's "boring" dunk was still exponentially better than mine, and you'd have to be insane to rather watch me in a full game over LeBron.
So yes, there's a certain surprise factor working in Spooky's favor at first, and I have to believe it's intentional. But the best way to diminish that effect is repetition, and I'm not entirely ashamed to admit that I've now listened to "Black Silk" several times. After a while you start to realize that he can't actually sing particularly well, he uses that same relatively monotone delivery in every song, and it becomes more evident that his lyrics, surprise of all surprises, sound like they were written by a teenager.
Does he still obviously have some musical talent? Yes. Minus the surprise factor, would I rather listen to a full album from him than almost any other established R&B artist. Nope, not even particularly close.
But Yo, Is This Racist?
Well, he's not-not racist.
First, obviously, he's a skinny white kid rocking a durag and FUBU with reckless abandon, a move that's so brazen and ridiculous it comes across far more like the brother from "Naploen Dynamite" than anything malicious or aggressively racist. It may be dumb, but sweet baby Jesus knows people wear weirder, more ill-advised things every day.
Unfortunately, it's not just the clothes that make me all yo, is this racist? It's the clothes in combination with the name. When you're white and your name has the word Black in it and you're in the rap hemisphere, a hemisphere built on Black culture, you're not off to a strong start. And then he goes and throws a "Spooky" on top of it, when "spook" was a common racial slur for Black people in America for decades (and probably still is in some places).
So a white kid naming himself Spooky Black and dressing in durags and FUBU? Either it's a hell of a coincidence and he's just a weird kid dumbly unaware of the racial implications of his whole artistic vision, or it's an intentional, self-aware provocation intended to get attention on the internet which worked astoundingly well, in which case fuck him.
Either way, the whole thing kind of makes me uneasy.
Speaking of racism, yo, would it be racist for me to criticize the disproportionate amount of attention being paid to Bobby Schmurda without doing the same of Spooky Black? Well, it wouldn't not be racist. So let me close by saying that I'm really starting to hate how much of music in the age of the internet has become about trying to unravel this impossibly complicated know of identity, talent, race, connections, media hype and digital savvy.
Ultimately, it sounds like Spooky Black is talented enough to make all his theatrics kind of sad. You don't always make the best life decisions in your mid-teens, and it'd be a shame for the clothes and that name to ultimately derail what could have been (and still might be, although I wouldn't bet on it) a successful musical career. Either way, this will likely be the last time I spend another second of my life thinking about Spooky Black, although if the internet has taught me anything, it's that the next Spooky Black is only a YouTube video away.
Until then, good luck "Without You" out of your head.
[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. He also occasionally talks in podcast form and appears on RevoltTV. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]