by Nick Hanover
I don’t know if 2018 will go down as the year Austin hip hop broke but I firmly believe it will go down as the year it at least grew up. In the most visible sense that meant commercial ambition, with a flawed but well-meaning Chronicle cover story on three radio ready acts leading to a Pitchfork feature on the same scene not long after. The Pitchfork piece may have lacked originality (and was woefully underrepresentative) but it made one thing abundantly clear: people outside Austin were paying attention to its hip hop scene and sustaining that momentum meant performing well under more intense scrutiny.
Although Click Clack’s Blue Eyed Black Boy was not the first anticipated album to drop after the Pitchfork feature, and there’s almost certainly no way it was conceived and created solely in the month after that piece went live, it feels like the first real effort to prove Austin hip hop is ready for critical primetime. Every aspect of Blue Eyed Black Boy, from Ballteam’s crisp, forward thinking production to Click Clack’s contemplation of his and others’ expectations for his career, feels serious and ambitious, the type of work you expect from a master reminding everyone why he’s great rather than attempting to prove he is.
Maybe that’s because unlike so many of Austin’s perpetually handwringing artists, Click Clack refuses to pick a side in the art versus entertainment debate. On opening track “Archie,” Click Clack brazenly declares “This is not art/But I’m an artiste,” effectively shutting down the worrywarts expressing dismay that the local artists the Pitchforks of the world celebrate think of clubs before campuses. Click Clack sees the art in hit making, but he also can’t help seeing the art in a clever turn of phrase and a tricky rhyme scheme.
This is how one ends up with a mammoth track like “The Times,” where an Anticon-gone-trap beat backs up some cunning linguism. Or “Push to Start,” a flashy pop production full of autotuning masking an exploration of the pitfalls of celebrating hyper aggression and excess. Even the borderline emo-rap of “Letter to Bob” flips the script, the washed out samples and twisting percussion not in service to some tale of heartbreak and low self-esteem but a conversation with an omnipotent force about the meaning of life and how much faith we put in “bands and brands” instead of ourselves.
Of course, Click Clack is smart enough to balance out the deep thoughts with material celebrating the finer things in life. “Thicc” is exactly what you think it is based on its title, a bass heavy celebration of curves that also finds time to condemn the men who don’t give them enough love. “Frosty” is an effortlessly cool bit of self-mythologizing, talking up Click Clack’s style (“I’m so up to date that my watch distract me”) that also contains some of Click Clack’s best drags (“I might slap a little cracker boy till he Dolezal”). Meanwhile on “Lyor,” Click Clack dials the vocal effects up to 11 as he shouts out everything from Stranger Things to Tesla to Paul Mooney for the sheer fun of it, the strings and flutes samples serving as an absurdly luxurious contrast to the glibness.
Giddy contrasts like that are perhaps the main reason why Blue Eyed Black Boy works so well, particularly in comparison to the sluggish and often abrasive sounds of Click Clack’s currently better known peers. Blue Eyed Black Boy is unmistakably an album, a cohesive but varied work that seeks to bring listeners into its creator’s world rather than a collection of unremarkable content filling time between the hits. And that’s why this album couldn’t have come at a better time: singles-driven artists may have put the scene on the radar of the mainstream, but it takes artists like Click Clack and albums like Blue Eyed Black Boy to hold their gaze.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Ovrld as well as Loser City, where he mostly writes about comics. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with his friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover