Review Summary: Blazing Arrow experiments, grooves, and blows away all hip-hop of the new centuries. Combining a hitlist of hip-hop superstars, Blackalicious released a modern gem in hip-hop.
Blackalicious looks like a laughably bad rapper name. While quite hilarious when you first see it, how many artists can take themselves seriously and call themselves Blackalicious? Well, for starters, Blazing Arrow is nothing close to a solo effort. It brings in a hip-hop supergroup headed by Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel and brings in the production talents of DJ Shadow, Cut Chemist, and many more. Ben Harper, De La Soul, and Zach De La Rocha all make appearances on the album. With the large abundance of influences coming into the project, Blazing Arrow jumps around into so many different genres that it is extremely hard to make generalizing statements about the album. I’m going to try, though.
Blazing Arrow is quite possibly one of the most epic rap albums of all time. It features four tracks over five minutes, including the nine and a half minute Release
. Luckily, no one can create so much interest in longer hip-hop tracks than DJ Shadow. His beats jump through different tempos, feels, and atmospheres perfectly. Release
is certainly the perfect example of the superb ability to change feels in the blink of an eye. Release divides itself into 3 parts. The opening section is a grooving, midtempo section accented by Zach De La Rocha repeating the title. It actually has a bit of a rock feel. A low voiced piano line leads the melodic line while Gift of Gab enters with extremely furious verses. Rocha gets more and more intense throughout his screaming of Release, which then leads to a climax of his screaming. The song enters a slower, ballad like section with more melodic samples not too far out from Shadow’s Endtroducing days. Led by spoken word from Saul Williams, the ballad section moves along with a surprisingly tasteful electronic beat behind it. It grows and layers for minutes before another transition section of ambience. Finally, the third section comes back up in a Funkadelic-style section, accented with great horn licks. Once again, Shadow’s funk influence shines through superbly as Lyrics Born turns out some more excellent rapping.
However, the most spastic beats, from Cut Chemist rather than Shadow, come in Chemical Calisthenics
. Rather than leading the song through the changes, he goes along for the ride, allowing Gift of Gab to pull out his fastest verses and lead everything along in a chemistry lesson. It starts off jumping from a fast beat to a slower, funky beat, and back within the first 10 seconds. Finally, Gab begins rapping and jumping through tempos and more rubato sections of just him and drum accents. He sounds like he really knows what he’s doing in chemistry, going through it extremely fast even though Chemist keeps changing up the feels on him. Different melodic samples serve simply as background noise for Gab’s rapping, which reaches a point where the snare drum has to start rolling to keep up with his tongue.
Does all this sound a bit too weird and out there for you? Don’t worry, Blazing Arrow has its share of accessible, catchy songs as well. It’s Going Down
is easily the catchiest on the album, although opening a bit strangely as a woman a capella section. Once the rest of the instruments enter, a laid back hip-hop groove settles in as the woman vocalists bust out their best Destiny’s Child with the chorus. This song could easily take over the airwaves, its combination of a rapped verse and a sung chorus works just like any female pop star mixed with male rapper collaboration out there today. The only difference is that it has better production, better vocals, and better atmosphere. Passion
could just as easily win the radio airtime, but in a different style. Passion
fits easily in any football movie as its theme song, especially with its chorus lyrics. The chorus states lines like “Passion, to play through pain and love the game,” and the intense rapping of the chorus set the mood well. A more uptempo song and a more rock-oriented feel, Passion
throws out the typical rapper verses, busting out the n-word a few times and throwing curtain calls to each other as Gift of Gab and Rakaa from Dilated Peoples trade verses. With the talents of both rappers and the multiple producers on the song, the song manages to easily span nearly 5 minutes and never tire out.
Now, I could go on and mention every song on this album because they all feature something special and unique about them. Nowhere Fast
goes through tons of different feels and throws out some of the best background melody in recent hip-hop music. Some of the straight up hip-hop like 4000 Miles
, Green Light: Now Begin
, and Sky Is Falling
are incredibly enjoyable tracks with certain nuances about them that become highlights. Paragraph President
stands out as the best overall production on the album, with fantastic melodic chordal structure from the keyboards, some of the best beats available, and always impressive rapping. The album jumps out on more experimentation, loving to accent the woman backing vocals as they managed to grab some of the best singers available. Blazing Arrow puts together straight up hip-hop, some more melodic experimentation, and great grooves throughout to make one of the best, if not the best, hip-hop albums of the new century.
It’s Going Down