November 10, 2005

Interview with Gift of Gab
By Canyon Cody
Originally published in The Heights

Never take advice from a rapper. If you don't see me back on campus next semester, blame Gift of Gab from Blackalicious.

While interviewing him over the phone, Gab's advice to me was, "Take the cash from your student loans and start a record company. That's what we did." I explained to him that Boston College doesn't have much of a hip-hop scene and he laughed.

"Neither did UC Davis," he said, "but that's where we all met. Me, DJ Shadow, Lyrics Born, Lateef, Xcel - we all met at the college radio station."

With misappropriated tuition money, the crew started SoleSides Records in 1992, later to become Quannum Projects. The independent label released Blackalicious' first two EPs, Melodica and A2G, and its full-length debut Nia. The duo finally signed to a major label in 2000 and unleashed Blazing Arrow, one of the most sublime hip-hop albums ever released.

Blackalicious - "Powers"

The new Blackalicious album, The Craft, sounds surprisingly little like its predecessor. Instead of chopping up samples, Blackalicious producer Chief Xcel put together an all-star band featuring Spearhead bassist Carl Young and Beastie Boys percussionist Alfredo Ortiz to create the lush instrumental sound heard on tracks like the lead single "Powers," "Supreme People," and "Lotus Flower," featuring George Clinton.

"What I love about this album is that you can't tell what's a sample and what's a live performance," said Gab. "Xcel originally made the beats on the MPC, but then stripped them down.

"Then we went into the studio with the band and they just jammed on top of his beats for like eight hours a day, three days in a row. It was like a Miles Davis session. Then we took the best parts of the jam session and Xcel's original beats and put them together."


Blackalicious - "Rhythm Sticks"

While Xcel drives the beat, Gab rides the groove with his signature lyrical gymnastics. Keep your finger near the rewind button because Gab's got the sort of ridiculous flow that demands a double take. Gab is probably too hooked on phonetics, rehashing his infamous exercise in extended alliteration reminiscent of "Alphabet Aerobics."

Blackalicious - "The Fall & Rise Elliot Brown"

"I've been rapping since I was 12, just battling kids in the neighborhood, so for this album I wanted to do something more. I wanted to tell stories that created visuals for the listener," he said. The album is a cinematic experience that reinforces Gab's reputation as a socially conscious emcee who manages to avoid the temptation of hippie-dippy proselytizing.

"I don't consider myself a political person. I just use common sense. I'm an observer. If I see something happening over and over again in my community, then I make the connection and I comment on it."