Bob Dylan has conquered it all. Film, music, Nobel prizes, Academy Awards and, of course, a featured spot on a forgettable rap album. His collaboration with Kurtis Blow is a strange and fascinating addendum to Dylan, and Blow’s careers. Street Rock brings them together, a one-take rap from Dylan who expands his discography with an appearance on Kingdom Blow. What a fascinating run of form the pair were on, although considering the rut Dylan found himself in at the time, perhaps taking on a rap was the best he could manage. Does it make up for Knocked Out Loaded? Kind of, yes. Street Rock is a track Dylan should be nowhere near. For that reason, Street Rock survives on, a necessary oddity planted in the middle of a stifled decade for Dylan.
At the six-minute mark, a competent rap track is turned into a fascinating identity crisis for a big shot of 1960s acoustics. Lukewarm off the back of Empire Burlesque, Dylan must have needed some move to pastures new. A desperate attempt to try his hand where he was never thought of. Those opening bars, of the needier getting needier, ring true for a man whose 80s period was a barren place to be. Still, he persevered, trying his hand at anything and everything he could take on, and Street Rock is likely the best project Dylan worked on during the mid-1980s. Heavy and metallic whomps and jittery background discussions, record scratches and a reserved Blow build this massive, eight-minute track as high as it can go. Not even a single. Just drop Dylan onto the front of the album, a one-take man with not a single plan.
Even then, it adds to the allure of this Kingdom Blow opener. Although the broader project falls to pieces, it is fascinating to hear Dylan backed by a drum machine and east coast, turntable beat. Although the middling lyrical beat thrown down by Blow offers little in the lengthy midsection, the tension rises and rises, just waiting for Dylan’s reappearance. Fair play to the man, he has taken major leaps from his comfort zone and delivered a fundamentally fine backing vocal. His isolated rap manages to contain the usual joys of his voice yet hold firm among the longevity of Blow’s east coast style. Blow never quite found a style that worked for him, and this empty attempt at capturing a sound Beastie Boys would further perfect proves woeful.
Despite all of that, and Dylan beginning to sound more and more like Warren Beatty in Bulworth when he raps about the dirty word of socialism, Street Rock is fine. A fascinating and historic oddity, a delicate little deep dive worth championing for just how out there it is for Mr. Tambourine Man himself to take on an eight-minute rap track that sees him bookend the song. He is used as a flawed rope bridge to parade Blow through an empty and ill-defined hit at the streets of the 1980s. It has all the instrumental solidity and blandness of the times, the Reaganomics beat and bassline shift that feature as background noise in nostalgia pop pieces. At least he pads the track out before Dylan comes in, clear as day and unsurprisingly usurping Blow.