Imagine you’re a white kid.
Imagine you’re me. Okay, there, you have the whitest kid you could probably imagine. Imagine your most ambitious musical outlet is the grandiose antics of that of Sufjan Stevens. Now, imagine the same friend that got you hooked on that guy looking to make 50 albums for 50 states tells you that, hey, your preconceived notions on rap is false; there is some great stuff out there. Now, imagine yourself throwing your hands up in disgust:
But this aggressive outburst quickly becomes stunned silence; this stunned silence quickly becomes giddy joy, and all because Gift of Gab is working you one over while shredding his microphone apart with the alphabet. “Artificial amateurs, aren't at all amazing; analytically, I assault, animate things,
” he begins, and it’ll take the very breath out of you even before he tires. And trust me, any normal person would be. And to think, I once thought Sufjan Stevens was ambitious.
Blackalicious, comprised of MC Gift of Gab (Timothy Parker) and DJ/producer Chief Xcel (Xavier Mosley), are revered for their rather artistic and skewed hip-hop albums; Blazing Arrow
, released three years after to A2G
, is often cited as one of the greatest hip-hop albums to be released, and for good reason. As innovative as it was comfortable, it only solidified what anyone could have guessed with their EP years before: Blackalicious are at the top of their game. A2G
, while a little stripped and a victim of time, is still a consistently pleasing listen and is a perfect crossover to the genre for those generally opposed.
Half the fun of listening to a Blackalicious album is discerning what Gab is saying and trying to keep up; the album begins with a rap composed of words relating to the letters of the alphabet A to G. ‘A to G’ is interrupted between with a informative female voice that leads into Gab’s on rapping, and the looped piano over looped beats bring together the how-to feel. Gab is holding back here, slower than usual and builds up into a disconcerting final thirty seconds that spirals under edited tracks towards the pounding ‘Clockwork.’ A lyrical delight that revels in its own clever rhyming, where Gab revels in the fact that in the right context he can rhyme “ginger” with “ninja” and make it sound eloquent. This is equally A2G
’s biggest selling point, and it delivers, but it holds up well musically.
‘Rock The Spot,’ while slightly awkward in its vocal work has Gab and Xcel singing together leading into Gab’s rap, brings trumpets and flutes amongst the savory beats that are as old school amongst the record scratches as it gets while feeling fresh, while ‘Back To The Essence’ and ‘Making Progress’ bounce around in styled technical sways of beats and vocals that complement without standing out, but are brought to the front with superb vocal and lyrical work. Gab sings on ‘Making Progress,’ “You could change your ways, elevate today / to all recovered alcoholics chillin up in AA / every black-owned business, keep doin for self / Helpin out the community and spreadin the wealth,
” and it hits with the kind of truth some of us couldn’t comprehend without it. The real album standouts, though, ‘Deception’ and ‘Alphabet Aerobics,’ are the real reason to pick up A2G
, and they don’t under whelm.
‘Deception’ is a jolting piano underlined ode to the fast success of a rapper; Gab starts off with a croaky warble, “Don’t let money change ya!
” before he chronicles the up rise of the rapper and his ultimate failure to find an audience; it speaks volumes about the band themselves (channeling their own fear of failure?) and what’s put out on the radio today. Musically, it’s one of the most immediately recognizable, bouncing around fretfully while allowing time for a few la-di-dahs. Album closer, the infamous ‘Alphabet Aerobics,’ is an invigorating exercise in Gab’s ability as an MC and lyricist. Cut Chemist produces here and he isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of how fast the song seems like it should be; by the time M rolls around, it’s a tiring affair that still has to make it to Z. When Gab yells “zealot!
exasperated, you can feel him. Better yet is the slight chuckle of the professional sounding woman found on ‘A To Go’ before probing the audience: “Good… can you say it faster?
The song’s good enough on its lyrics alone (choice examples of sing-along phrases: “Epileptic episode, elevated etiquette
”; “Hey holocaust hints hear 'em holler at your homeboy
”; “Niggas nap knowin I'm nice naturally /
Knack, never lack, make noise nationally.
If there’s a reason to pick up A2G
(and there’s a few), it’s the easy-going atmosphere of it all. Never condescending or grotesque and with more on the mind than money and girls, Blackalicious makes music that never once steps out of bounds of what one could find questionable. This, along with its immediacy of Cut Chemist’s production and constant innovation, is what makes Blackalicious at the top of its game, and a constantly refreshing listen. Also, it’s almost enough just to see some white kid from Texas try to make it past the letter E.
Lord, have I tried.