When a new neighborhood or scene hits the New York cultural pavement, there’s an inevitable jolt to the social life that its citizens occupy. Restaurants become talked about like a transgressive rumor; bars become packed with either the coolest or worst people alive. Articles – some of them kind, and others excessively critical – abound. Sometimes, however, people stumble upon some compelling art, too. Such is the case with 26-year-old Blaketheman1000 (born Blake Ortiz-Goldberg), the pop and alternative artist with a penchant for rapping who became somewhat known in Dimes Square – the widely discussed and loosely defined two-block radius in the Lower East Side neighborhood of New York.
It’s the night of Blake’s concert at Baby’s All Right in Williamsburg, and he is getting honey poured down his throat before his performance. “Anything to get ready!” he says unironically. Blake is excited about this show, only his second at the well-known venue. (He performed at Steven Donzinger’s show there on July 1st). He has an affection for New York that is palpable when he talks. “Coming from Southern California, it was so novel that cultures could be so close together. There are people and cultures distinctly shared and close together,” he says of the city.
Born and raised in Southern California, Blake went to college at Belmont University in Nashville. “I would play more garage rock music back then. That was the first time I had been to New York because I would tour a little bit,” he says after the show. Blake was also into the theater, which explains the comedic elements of his music. “That’s where a lot of my comedy comes from. In high school, I did Legally Blonde and Putnam College Spelling Bee,” he says.
At first glance, Blaketheman1000 appears to be yet another cliché white rapper, but his music flirts with hip-hop as much as it does pop or emo and generally doesn’t inspire the alarm bells of appropriation. “I’m not making hip-hop. I want to make that clear. Pop has some influence from hip-hop, but I’m not a rapper,” Blake tells me. So far, his best song is “Blake 2,” where he sings like Rivers Cuomo circa 1994 alongside musician May Rio, who adds a needed feminine reprieve for the song’s overt boyishness. It’s an innocent tune about jilted love, and Blake’s hyperactive earnestness manages to make it work. “My brain is a chemical can/ What if I slip and I die /What if I never reply,” Blake sings, his voice invoking the outsider artist Daniel Johnston.
On his more rap-leaning tracks, Blake’s shtick is to be innocuous-seeming, like the most diminutive guy in a friend group, all while remaining playfully cocky. It’s a familiar white rapper trope, and Blake is more aware of it than most. “Dean Kissick,” named in honor of the critic from the art magazine Spike, and arguably his most famous song, caught on for its playfully self-effacing lyrics. “‘Blake 2’ dropped during Omicron, the whole city hopped on my Johnson/Like ‘who’s that?’/Oh, I’m just a dude who raps and eats food like Action Bronson,” Blake raps.
Blake is more on the side of Gen Z’s pink-haired pop-punk nostalgia than pure hip-hop and is careful not to let his humor obscure that fact. “I’m not trying to make a joke out of rap. Even though I try to be a comedian, I understand my place. I love country music too. The songwriting is always brilliant. They might be hybrids, but I am just trying to be myself. Like, I read your piece about white rappers, and I agreed,” he professed almost self-consciously. On one level, Blake is taking from hip-hop and is indeed rhyming as a rapper would, but the production is much closer to the hyperpop inklings of Drain Gang or Glaive. There’s rapping, sure, but it’s clear that nobody involved is trying to be on XXL’s Freshman list.
And while he tends to perform in the voice of an overgrown teenager – my main issue with him – Blake does wrangle a striking array of emotions in his songwriting. “If you wanna ditch me/I’ll kill myself and take you with me,” he croons on “Pixies,” a more straightforwardly emo ballad he released last year. “I know that it’s wrong/When I grow wings, I’ll put the air back in your lungs.”
Still, for potential naysayers, if the cheeky raps don’t do it, the “Dimes Square” thing likely counts as a strike against him, if only for public exhaustion with the topic. He’s spent a good deal of time in the area and is among the cohort often described as the scene’s new vanguard. “I guess my take is that the neighborhood is a physical location that has been assigned to describe an online phenomenon of a rise in new voices in media and culture that has happened post-COVID,” he says, with a hint of sarcasm. “It’s like if you dropped a pin in the five boroughs — that would be the most central location.”
At his concert, Blake runs through his catalog — some available on streaming and others released as YouTube loosies — while wearing a neon outfit that seemingly glows in the dark. During “Blake 2,” he jumps in the air and lands flat on his ass. The live version of the track strikes me as a cosplay of performance art. There’s the Yeezus tour, and there’s Blaketheman1000, winking at you while wearing a jacket that could give someone a seizure. Even though it’s hard to tell how serious he wants the audience to take him, it’s clear the kids at the show can’t get enough.