Album Reviews: The Craft by BlackaliciousAs part of the Quannum Projects collective that grew out of NorCal's legendary Solesides Crew -- which counted not just Blackalicious but also Lyrics Born, Lateef the Truthspeaker and DJ Shadow as members -- the dynamic hip-hop duo of Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel have taken their sweet time crafting not mere albums, but sonic messages to the unwise, whether they're knucklehead rappers or secular citizens. As Gab rhymes on The Craft's opening missive "World of Vibrations," "Don't blame me for the slang and the words/God writes these rhymes through me/I just listen to him." Which may sound more than a bit presumptuous, but Gab and Xcel have made a career out of pious hip-hop where others have failed, proving once again that just because you can't blame God for the crap that happens to you, you can still cite him as the primary reason for your good times and fortune.
Take "Supreme People," the song that immediately follows "Vibrations," for example: It's a convincing litany of injustice brought upon blacks worldwide, but none of it occurs at the hand of God. And so goes the usual Blackalicious conundrum, one that fans and detractors alike had to negotiate on the mostly superior Nia and Blazing Arrow before it: Is there room for straight hip-hop skills amongst the didactic instant-messaging? The answer, as always, is hell yes. As much as Gab's religiosity can sometimes paint him into a corner, his phenomenal gift for breakneck wordplay helps him bust right out of it. His tongue-twisting turns on "Lotus Flower" (which enjoys a space-funk accompaniment by none other than George Clinton, Dr. Funkenstein himself), "Rhythm Sticks," and the braggadocio-soaked "Your Move" continue to cement his legacy as one of the most potent MCs in the game. And then there's Chief Xcel, whose stellar production, one that eschews the glitchy waste of current rap soundscaping in favor of true-school drum tracking, keeps the vibe on The Craft not just relevant but massive. The breakdown smack dab in the middle of "World of Vibrations" seems to owe as much to the Bomb Squad as it does to Pink Floyd. The piano funk of "Automatique" (with ethereal vocal support from Floetry) is as addictive as its preceding track "Side to Side" (featuring Quannum homey Lateef, of course) is frenetic and contagious.
Together, Gab and Xcel make some moving, beautiful, ass-shaking music, and it's a complete pity that 50 Cent can sleepwalk his way through an album and rake in millions while Blackalicious, with its heart, head, beats and wordcraft all in the right place, can't catch a break on MTV or BET. If God truly is smiling down on Blackalicious, you'd think he'd give them a bit more airplay. As one of the most consistently entertaining and uplifting hip-hop acts in the mix today, they more than deserve it. They've earned it. - Scott Thill, Morphizm.com
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