Blackillac, a new hip-hop project featuring production and vocals from Gary Clark Jr. and bars by Zeale and Phranchyze, staged an Austin debut at Native Hostel on Tuesday night. It was only the group’s third live performance — they played two shows in Los Angeles over the NBA All-Star weekend — but there were no opening day jitters for the artists who have been friends since they attended Austin High School together years ago. Instead, the evening felt like a triumphant reunion.
“We had to go where the devil gets his due, and play in L.A. first, but we knew we had to get back and do it for the homies and for the fans,” Zeale told an intimate crowd at a private party hosted by Stolen Spirits.
They played a tight, roughly 40-minute set, and the homies and fans lounging on plush couches arranged around a listening room stage area were all about it. Stylistically, the group covered a broad swath of territory, playing a mix of soulful love jams with catchy hooks, bass heavy club-bangers and “blaze one in the air” stoner rallying cries.
Zeale and Phranchyze, who have been ripping shows together since they were teenagers, had an easy chemistry and a natural interplay that was a joy to watch. Clark, who has his right hand bandaged after a “drunk kung fu fail”, did not unleash any guitar riffs, but added his soulful crooning to the set, singing soaring hooks on four of the seven songs. The three men together are a powerful team.
“Nobody freestyles any more because they’re terrible. Nobody except us,” Zeale said after they worked through a solid 35 minutes of strong original material. It wasn’t an empty boast. He and Phranchyze took the set out trading blistering top-of-the-dome verses.
They didn’t announce any upcoming gigs at the end of the show, but don’t be surprised if they show up on a few South by Southwest-week bills.
There’s already label interest in the group and a planned trip to New York later this year could seal the deal. Which wouldn’t be surprising. The project didn’t feel new at all. It felt like something that’s been waiting to happen for years.