In a time when so many groups in hip-hop sound the same, Blackalicious comes with an original sound on their new album, Blazing Arrow. Blackalicious, consisting of MC, Gift of Gab and D.J., Chief Xcel, would describe their music as, “Soulful hip hop,” which Gift of Gab defines as, “kind of bound boundless hip-hop. It’s soulful, but you can never really put your finger on it ’cause you never know where we’re gonna take it next.” Indeed, their fourth album seems to take their music into a more experimental direction than they have taken it in the past.

Paul Wong
Courtesy of MCA Records
Blackalicious members work diligently.

With their new album, they are now on a major label as opposed to being on their own independent label which has changed a lot of artists who have made a similar transition. However, Chief Xcel assures us that, “the only difference is really that we have to work harder to make sure that everything is the way we want it to be, and we only really made the jump so we would have more records in the stores.” When asked how their album compares with their old albums, especially Nia, considered many to be an underground classic, Gift of Gab responds, “It’s all really just an evolution. As we grow as artists we learn how to approach music and make music in new and different ways and expand upon what we’ve already done.” They are obviously fans of music with both Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel possessing a long list of influences that has shaped their style. They can also appreciate all different genres due to the fact that they’ve toured with all kinds of different acts from 311 to Nika Costa.

Currently on tour with Public Enemy and Dilated Peoples, a Blackalicious show is definitely not one to be missed. Get rid of the stage props, pyrotechnics, costumes and back up dancers. Bring in two turntables, a microphone and raw lyrical talent, and that scratches the surface of what a Blackalicious show entails. Recently performing at the Royal Oak theater, Gift of Gab, as the centerpiece of the set, stood in the middle of the stage as label mate Lateef the truth speaker worked the crowd moving from left to right on stage. Possessing songs that invoke crowd participation, a D.J. that has enough skills to perform solo and two emcees on stage that put their heart and soul into every line that is spoken, they were sure to be a hard act to follow. Not intimidated by opening for any artist, no matter how different the music of the headlining act may be, Gift of Gab states, “Different crowds bring different energies. If they know us or not, once you grasp them and once their connected with what you’re doing and they’re in your vibe, all crowds are pretty much the same. When you come to our show expect to leave feeling like you had an experience. Expect to feel a lot of emotion and a lot of energy. By the end of the show we want you to feel like it’s something you’ve grown from, something that you can take with you.”

As for hip-hop in general, Blackalicious along with other artists are taking hip-hop in a new direction. When asked about copy-cat and/or “bling bling” types of artist, Chief Xcel responded, “It all comes down to skills, and being who you are. I think some people jump on the ‘bling bling’ bandwagon, and others will jump on the ‘conscience’ bandwagon. Artists like LL Cool J, Slick Rick, and Rakim are the originators of that, but they did it creatively and pushed the boundaries of rap. You can talk about your stuff, but just take up somewhere we haven’t been.” As for what hip-hop needs Chief Xcel just wants more balance to the game. “You should see the Roots as much as you see Cash Money, Common as much as you see Nelly.” Although not claiming to be a psychic, Gift of Gab sees this balance coming. “I think hip-hop is coming around. It goes in cycles, and it can only sound a certain way for so long, and all it really takes is one group to turn it around and open up people to what else is out there so that there can be more of a balance. I think groups like Jurassic 5, Dilated Peoples, Common, The Roots, and many more are making pretty classic music right now. As long as artists stay true to that I think that the true art is always gonna stand out.” Still running their own independent record label, Quannam, signing original artists, and putting out classic material themselves, Blackalicious is tipping the scales back into balance one scratch and rhyme at a time.

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