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Gift of Gab and Cheif Xcel. Updates and diary style journal
entries from the road! Peep.
by MCA Records
Cut through the floss and glitz. On the other side of the
hype machine are artists that create because they need to,
artists that we listen to because they demand our attention.
In a hip-hop career that has stretched past a decade, Blackalicious
has earned respect the old-fashioned way--rising through honesty,
commitment, and artistry. Now, with Blazing Arrow, their fourth
album and their major label debut, they have achieved their
most fully realized album in a consistently ground-breaking
Ranging from verbal funk-burners and battle-rhyme rippers
to expertly crafted future-soul and convention-crushing experimentation,
Blazing Arrow moves from strength to strength on Chief Xcel's
studio wizardry and the Gift of Gab's quicksilver tongue,
igniting fires in the soul and body.
The record also features appearances from a star-studded list
of friends and admirers, including: Zach De La Rocha (formerly
of Rage Against The Machine), Ben Harper, ?uestlove (The Roots),
Chali 2Na and Cut Chemist (Jurassic 5), Rakaa and Babu (Dilated
Peoples), Saul Williams, Gil Scott-Heron, Tracey Moore (Jazzyfatnastees),
KeKe Wyatt, Jaguar Wright, Money Mark, James Poyser, Paul
Humphrey, Sean Lennon, and Miho Hatori (Cibo Matto). And of
course, there are collaborations with Quannum crewmates DJ
Shadow, Lyrics Born, Lateef the Truth Speaker, Joyo Velarde,
Erinn Anova, and the Lifesavas.
Self-described "everyday brothers", the Bay Area native Xavier
Mosley (Chief Xcel) met the San Fernando Valley native Tim
Parker (Gift of Gab) at John F. Kennedy High School in Sacramento,
California in 1987, and immediately struck up a friendship
over hip-hop. As Tim (known as Gabby T) and Xavier (then DJ
IceSki) began plying their skills in the area, they decided
to become a crew. Although they separated after Gab graduated
in 1989, they kept in close touch and decided in 1991 to become
Xcel's friends at the University of California at Davis were
forming a crew called SoleSides, including DJ Shadow, Lyrics
Born and Lateef The Truth Speaker (known together as Latyrx).
In 1992, Gab moved to Davis to reunite with Xcel and found
an intense, progressive collective, centered on rowdy KDVS
radio shows and all-night living-room freestyle sessions.
As Xcel prepared their first album, Gab joined DJ Shadow to
record "Count and Estimate" as part of Shadow's side of the
first SoleSides label 12-inch in late 1992, and released it
to underground acclaim.
Blackalicious then recorded Melodica, released on SoleSides
in 1995. The EP's soulful journey-displaying Xcel's lush,
layered production and Gab's introspective, whiplash rhymes
on classics like "Swan Lake", "40 Oz. For Breakfast" and "Deep
In The Jungle"-fired the imagination of heads worldwide. By
the time they began recording Nia in 1996, Billboard magazine
was calling the crew the Bay Area's most important new hip-hop
But by the end of 1997, Blackalicious and the SoleSides Crew
reached a crossroads. SoleSides folded and was reborn as Quannum.
In all, Nia took three obstacle-filled years to make. Just
as Xcel was experiencing profound creative growth, Gab fell
into personal turmoil. That tension was reflected in the deeply
moving album that resulted. As Gab says, "We always speak
from our hearts about life as we see it, life as we know it,
and life as we would like to see it." Nia, a Swahili word
meaning "purpose"-took on a very real meaning.
Nia was preceded by 1999's A2G EP-which featured "Alphabet
Aerobics", a wickedly original collaboration with Jurassic
5's Cut Chemist. The two records proved to be something of
a personal and spiritual triumph. "Nia showed me that the
music can move minds," says Xcel. "We were doing a show in
Massachusetts and this girl had been waiting outside our bus
to see me and Gab all day. Gab came out and this girl was
just shook to meet him. She gave us the mmost beautiful 5-page
letter on how each of the songs had touched her life, and
she made us a little music box--it was a Blackalicious box--and
that stays up in the studio to this day. I just look at that
as a constant reminder of: 'OK, we're doing the right thing.'"
After selling over a hundred thousand copies of A2G and Nia
on their own independent Quannum label, MCA won a bidding
war, and Blackalicious signed in late 2000. Blazing Arrow
marks a continuing progression. "Nia was really about purpose
and finding the path," says Xcel. "Blazing Arrow is about
faith, having the strength to endure that path. It's an arrow
Gab adds, "Nia was forethought and Blazing Arrow is action."
The album offers straight-up hip-hop bangers in songs like
"Passion" (w/ Rakaa), "4000 Miles" (w/Lateef and Chali 2Na),
"Paragraph President" (a nod to early 90s fans); glimmering
future-soul in "Nowhere Fast" (w/ ?uestlove and keyboardist
James Poyser), "It's Goin' Down" (w/ Hi-Tek and KeKe Wyatt),
"Aural Pleasure" (w/ Jaguar Wright) and "First In Flight"
(w/ Gil Scott-Heron); and an epic suite that share the vision
and ambition of a Marvin Gaye or Pharoah Sanders in the three-part
"Release" (w/ Zach De La Rocha and Saul Williams). With Cut
Chemist, they even expand on the wig-lifting experimentation
of their crowd favorite "Alphabet Aerobics" in "Chemical Calisthenics".
Now in the tenth year of their career, Blackalicious is just
hitting their stride. "When blessings come, sometimes you
can celebrate, but most of the time it means that you have
to work harder," says Gab. "You may have a vision and you
may get close to that vision, but then it broadens. Every
time you move forward on it, it always gets bigger."
Xcel says, "It just takes both a faith and a focus--faith
that no matter what happens, this is your calling, this is
what you are supposed to do and you have to make it happen
no matter what obstacles come in your way. The aim has always
been to contribute our piece to this movement, to this continuum,
because there really is no beginning or end to it."
* * * M 2002