On Time Is The Price, Blackliq’s first release for Sage Francis’s Strange Famous Records, the veteran Richmond MC lays out his dark history, his bright future, and his methods for hacking life — all overtop of the best production he’s received in his career thus far.
I’ve always enjoyed the work Blackliq, aka Black Liquid, does as an MC. I’ve been following his work since he was dropping 16 albums in the space of three or four years — and he’s made some incredible music over that time. I loved Anti and Title in particular. But listen: I have never heard Blackliq sound this good on any of his previous releases. Time Is The Price is the dawn of a new era for Richmond’s hardest-working MC, and all it takes is one listen to know that.
The production is pretty clearly part of that. Time Is The Price is a collaborative release between Blackliq and Mopes, both of whom signed to Sage Francis’s label, Strange Famous, during 2021. Mopes was previously known as Prolyphic, and under that name he was part of a duo called Stick Figures and made records with Sage Francis, as well as producers Buddy Peace and Reanimator, among others. So like Blackliq, Mopes is a veteran of the hip hop grind, and he’s picked up a few tricks of the trade, which show through not just in his beats but also in how good Blackliq’s voice sounds here. He’s always had a harsh, throaty edge to his sound, and some productions in the past haven’t exactly showcased it in its ideal light. Here on Time Is the Price, though, Liq sounds better than he ever has before, and the edge in his voice is a scalpel, slicing through the layers of scratchy soul samples Mopes layers over it to drop lyrics that cut your throat.
Case in point: this record starts with “Endtro,” and the very first thing you hear Blackliq say is “I write rhymes for the reasons that you don’t, you fuck. I did shows with major artists and realized that they suck.” Overtop of an ominous beat featuring wah-wah guitar samples reminiscent of classic Blaxploitation film soundtracks, Liq drops other gems like “I know a whole lot of bitches, and ain’t none of them women” and “God don’t make mistakes — but I do, and I wouldn’t have it no other way,” before finishing the track with a spoken passage that sounds like it was lifted from a live performance, in which he declares that all of the adversity he’s faced in the past just gives him more strength to keep moving forward.
You hear both sides of that statement — the adversity and the strength — over the next seven songs. On “Don’t Ask Me,” Liq talks about how in order to survive, he has to look out for himself. “There’s a long list of people I knew and outgrew… and that might be you. If it is, what it is, if it ain’t, what it ain’t. If it was what it was, then it may need to change. You don’t even know my name… so fuck ‘back in the day’.” At other points in the album, he shows vulnerability. At the beginning of “I’m Not Right,” Liq tells a story of his drunken father cooking dinner for him when he was a child, and pouring beer into the sauce — followed by another story from a few years later of his dad being arrested on his front porch while he watched.
Indeed, dark stories of Liq’s past proliferate on this album, and the soundtrack Mopes sets to them are perfect, keeping the hard-hitting, soul-inflected boom-bap sound of classic New York hip hop while updating it for the 21st century with wavering drones that at times border on wavy — but instead of sounding high and blissed-out, these tracks sound spooky. They’re clearly intended to be the sound of shit going down, and BlackLiq delivers on that possibility in his lyrics, especially on “Guilty.” It’s the tale of his father’s jail sentence, what it was like to see that happen, and the effect it’s had on him throughout his adult life. “The hardest part was looking into his eyes knowing that, where he sat, we didn’t stand no chance,” he raps. “He said, ‘I’m not guilty’… but why am I?”
“Take Your Time” ends the entire records with a lyrical summation that acts as a manifesto for the next phase of Blackliq’s career. He talks about a woman confronting him, asking if the reason he’s still putting all his time into being a hip hop MC and generally creative person means he has a Peter Pan complex. Over Mopes’ most uplifting, vibed-out beat on the whole album, he gives his answer. “First off, I’m not broke, I’m not unemployed. I work hard to afford the things that I enjoy,” he explains. “I quit the drugs, quit the drinks — I’m on my shit. And most of my friends wish they could live like this.”
Your answer in this life might be the same as Blackliq’s — putting everything you’ve got into defeating your demons and creating a better future for yourself through art. Or it might be something completely different. What’s inspirational, in the end, about this album full of dark beats and hard stories, is the way Blackliq lives his truth. He’s a writer, an MC, and a storyteller, and we’re all able to benefit from the way he tells his stories. All you’ve got to do is listen.
Time Is The Price is out now and available on all streaming services, and as an mp3 download and merch package from Strange Famous Records.