It’s the most amusing lonely-boy music video to go viral out of the Twin Cities since Tay Zonday’s “Chocolate Rain” — and much like that flash-in-the-pan 2007 YouTube hit, one of the reasons it’s so funny is because it wasn’t intended to be funny.
What’s different about do-rag-clad teen R&B/pop singer Spooky Black and the charmingly hokey video for his horn-dog breakup song “Without You” is that it’s generating quite a serious buzz.
For those unaware, Spooky Black is a quiet and weepy-voiced, sexually amped-up kid from St. Paul whose real identity and back story have been kept largely under wraps. People know more about the young dude’s goofy sense of fashion than they do about his personal life.
Truth is, I do know Spooky’s real name and where he goes to school, but since he’s only 16 — and just 15 when he recorded “Without You” — it seems fair to let him keep his identity a secret for now. I really don’t want to make fun of a 16-year-old when I personally could’ve won any Awkward Teen competition, plus I admire any kid with the guts and know-how to unabashedly express himself like this.
I do want to make fun of the hype surrounding this particular kid, though.
Spooky Black made a name for himself — and, oh, what a name for a white kid channeling African-American R&B music — when his video “Without You” went viral this spring. The song from his “Black Silk” album (issued online only) has had 1.4 million views on YouTube and been reposted hundreds of times on the kinds of music blogs that seem to be only about reposting videos.
You really should check out that video if you haven’t. A lo-fi, almost VHS-quality clip, it opens with the slender singer stretched out all come-hitherly on a white couch wearing a white do-rag on his head. That scene is intermixed with shots of him in a black turtleneck, gold chain and another do-rag singing in a lonely, wintry, woodsy setting. At times we see him duetting with himself in what you might call the music-video version of a cheesy, dual-image high school senior portrait.
I guess the joke was on me, though. Spooky Black is proving to be more than a novelty act.
The Current (89.3 FM) has put him into steady rotation, as it does with just about everyone furthering the Bon Iver-ification of R&B and hip-hop. The Windish Agency, one of the nation’s biggest booking agencies, has signed him even though he has yet to perform a true gig. And Minneapolis native Doc McKinney, who has engineered and produced for the likes of Drake and Santigold, is now representing him as manager.
As you’ve probably guessed, I have trouble getting past the name Spooky Black — although, to his credit, it’s slightly better than the moniker he used earlier: Lil’ Spook. I solicited off-the-record opinions from a few local African-American music scenesters. The general response was: “I don’t have a problem with the name, but I could see others not liking it.”
I’ve got no problem with Mr. Black trying to remain a mystery man, er, boy, but I do think it’s a gimmicky and dumb approach. Good music is usually about personal expression, so how do you expect people to identify with your music if they don’t know anything about you personally?
The real problem is that it’s not very good music. Spooky does have an impressive, silky-soft voice that may or may not stick with him past the age of 18. Otherwise, “Black Silk” sounds like a cross between low-rent, sleepy R. Kelly tunes and a high-libido answer to James Blake, the buzzed-about British singer who gussied up his mopey whale-call tunes with staticky, hip-sounding but rudimentary electronic beats and ambient synth tones.
Spooky issued a new EP last month, “Leaving,” which boasts stronger production but still doesn’t fare much better. It brightly spotlights the awkward, uncomfortable, completely un-ironic way the teen singer drops F-bombs like popcorn at a movie theater, with several loaded in almost every song — often in completely unnecessary, huh?-inducing ways, such as the lyric, “Let me run my fingers through your [there it is!] hair.” Even worse, the not-too-coyly titled “HotelSixNine” and others use the word all too plainly and are sexplicit enough to merit an NC-17 rating.
Something about a 16-year-old singing so lasciviously toward girls feels icky — and really not funny at all.