Blackalicious Nia

Revered left coast group Blackalicious finally are beginning to make up for their sporadic output with their first full-length Nia. Taking the album title from a principle from the African American cultural festival Kwanzaa — meaning purpose — MC Gift of Gab and DJ/producer Chief Xcel have shown just that over the past year, following up their A2G EP of a few months ago. Nia fleshes out and builds on the foundation of that release even including “A To G’s” mind-blowing alliterative rhymes. But this lyrical throw down is hardly an indicator of the breadth on the 20 tracks. While consciously inclusive of a variety of musical styles, the duo have done their homework and the result is nowhere near as pretentious as it could have been. The bluesy “If I May” and Afrobeat leanings of “You Didn’t Know That Though” are among the many highlights allowing Gift of Gab to constantly weave into a pleasing sing-song style. When in a more traditional MC role, Gift of Gab often pulls cards on money-hungry rhymers as he does on the distorted flow of “Deception,” but senses being a lone voice of reason. On “Shallow Days” he laments the possible reaction of an unseen listener, “But the ears seem more steered toward self annihilation/So then he might laugh and write this off/Like I’m just out here just blowin’ wind/Maybe label it soft or unreal/Something they can’t feel.” Such a conclusion, though, would overlook the superior conceptual execution and soulful statement this record delivers. (Mo' Wax)