Blackalicious
Blazing Arrow


3.5
great

Review

by Alex Robertson STAFF
April 4th, 2013 | 30 replies | 3,018 views


Release Date: 2002 | Tracklist


#91: Blackalicious, Blazing Arrow (2002)

I have been struggling to review this album for what feels like years now; let that read primarily as a warning and also as an assertion of this album’s categorical slipperiness. There is no unifying aesthetic gambit, no historical import that serves to tie this album’s sprawl into a neat--and, more importantly, easily analyzed--package. It is by turns a “conscious” hip-hop album, an experimental one, and a pop one, fronted by a celestially talented MC and his shapeshifting producer. It is an album that balances the contending trajectories of two forces: the brain-melting wordplay of Blackalicious’s fellow underground hip-hoppers and the laidback vibes of their native California.

It is, more than anything, a set of seventeen experiments that usually work and sometimes don’t, which is the most convincing narrative I have been able to attach to this album. Though many have turned their back on it thanks to a recently invigorated stigma around “intelligent rap,” Blazing Arrow’s onslaught of ideas and motifs seems enduring--the album plays almost like The Beatles (1968), different sets of songs growing on and off you each listen, the whole thing feeling weirdly majestic as it reaches its end. Of course, this also means that Blazing Arrow could have easily been excised of its fat, and indeed: “Passion” is a withering call to arms (“Passion: the will to win, the spark within / Passion: the strength within the hearts of men”) and the snoozy “4000 Miles” is entirely barren of any aesthetic or philosophical notion not expressed with more eloquence elsewhere on the album.

But the fun thing about looking at albums in a purely retrospective sense is that these things tend not to matter very much; Blazing Arrow feels as good as its best songs, and those songs are often eye-openingly good. “Make You Feel That Way” is the album’s one unapologetic grab at sentimentality, and MC Gift of Gab sells it with finesse. Tracing a day full of things that “make you feel that way”--waking up hopeful, seeing an old friend, getting a promotion and acquiring the sense of purpose to which it is attached--Gab is able to transcend the specific fluctuations of his life cycle and produce something genuinely universal, all while blithely shouting out KRS-One and Rakim. On the three-part “Release,” he even manages to best a dreamy Saul Williams and a chest-puffing Lyrics Born by employing that most dangerous of beasts: the breathlessly fast verse, one that keeps adding syllables and sounds and meanings until the effect is almost vertiginous. “Green Light: Now Begin,” meanwhile, is almost the complete opposite but no less charming or groovy for it, Gab leisurely snaking his way around a funky beat that seems to ascend, Escherlike, without ever stopping.

My favorite, however, might just be “Day One,” the delectably drippy closer that sets everything into place (continuing the White Album analogy, this is Blazing Arrow’s “Good Night”). After sixteen tracks of the relentlessly catchy and complex rhymes I’ll rightly be castigated for not referencing enough, Gift of Gab settles down to the “home out of wrong where it feels right,” a line that might feel cheesy were it not so disarmingly heartfelt. Chief Xcel reconciles his loves of retro and futurism long enough to lay down a gorgeous track upon which Gab convincingly replicates that exact feeling, one of settling down in a place where you can truly feel “your inner soul’s vibration.” Indeed, that might act as the album’s mission statement; “smart” though it may be, this is music that is all about physicality, about no longer feeling the need to detach your mind from your body in the chemical calisthenics of our life’s continuum. Simply put, this is an album intent on moving your heart, body, and mind at the same time. If that kind of holy water comes with a little backwash, so be it. I defer to “Make You Feel That Way”: “In the dark, it's more likely that you notice light / In the light, more likely that you notice night.” Amen.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
robertsona
Staff Reviewer
April 4th 2013



15019 Comments


i know this is Not A Good Review for such a beloved album but i had an empty page sitting in google docs for like days and I AM DETERMINED TO MOVE FORWARD/UPWARD

good album

fish.
Contributing Reviewer
April 4th 2013



21791 Comments


bet you're regretting this little challenge now

Digging: Gesaffelstein - Aleph

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
April 4th 2013



15019 Comments


not really

also this is my hundredth review lol

CaptainHadouken
April 4th 2013



1960 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

The day i take on a hip-hop review will be a long time from now, its not that bad though.

robin
Emeritus
April 4th 2013



4248 Comments


this is my favourite hip hop album ever



robertsona
Staff Reviewer
April 4th 2013



15019 Comments


i have actually been so constantly tired this week that i have no idea if this is even readable

i should probably sleep, like, all the time today

CaptainHadouken
April 4th 2013



1960 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Know the feeling. lack of sleep is dumb. Its readable, a little rough at some parts, but it flows pretty well still. Ten times better job than i could do on this.

plane
Staff Reviewer
April 4th 2013



6094 Comments


This is a great review for this album and I agree with much of it. Same rating as well.

MikeC26
April 4th 2013



3173 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

nice review.

it's been a while since i've bumped this. too long probably seeing as how half the songs are mind-blowing.

MikeC26
April 4th 2013



3173 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

that beat on First in Flight mmmmm

YetAnotherBrick
April 4th 2013



4424 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

"and the snoozy “4000 Miles”

this made me cry

good review i guess >:[



klap
Staff Reviewer
April 4th 2013



10328 Comments


were I to continue the White Album analogy, this is Blazing Arrow’s “Good Night”

YOU ARE CONTINUING IT

Digging: Literature - Chorus

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
April 4th 2013



15019 Comments


hahahaha i swear i thought that very same thing myself whilst writing that but was like "who cares only some klap would notice that"

ill change it to "continuing" 8)

Bandido
April 4th 2013



816 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Good review, and I think you captured the hard-to-define-ness of the album. I often change stances on the album because the songs do grow on and off you, and some really hit and some really miss. I think it's a tough album to analyze, and an especially tough album to write about.

Also, of all of the meaty songs on here, "Blazing Arrow" is my favorite. It's so simple and nice!

EaglesBecomeVultures
April 4th 2013



5224 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

sweet review

what's next

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
April 4th 2013



15019 Comments


dalek - absence




Mewcopa0
April 5th 2013



1799 Comments


I agree, this album is really hard to place. I've always found that.

"Blazing Arrow feels as good as its best songs"

Really, what I've always thought of this album.

klap
Staff Reviewer
April 5th 2013



10328 Comments


i know, you using that little construction makes me realize how often that's used including by myself and how backwards it is

great review too obvie

Albus
April 5th 2013



77 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Still loving this album. Passion is the weakest song. Sky is Falling, Green Light: Now Begin and the first part of Aural Pleasure are not my favorites as well.

greg84
Staff Reviewer
April 5th 2013



7364 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

Yeah. This album's ace!

Digging: 68 - In Humor and Sadness



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