Blackalicious The Craft

This dynamic Bay Area duo have reached a level where it’s almost a given their new release is going to blow the majority of hip-hop out of the water, but with this stature they now have to out-do themselves and that is a much more difficult task. Of course The Craft is ambitious, but you wouldn’t expect anything less from high school friends Chief Xcel and Gift of Gab as the two create another tight record that contains more layers on one effort than some artists produce in their entire careers. As corny as it sounds, Blackalicious are still bending the unwritten rules of hip-hop and taking all sorts of sounds and influences into consideration, which apparently includes rockabilly, as Gab actually croons on a questionable "Powers” that treads "Hey Ya” territory. We’ll allow them to have some oddball joints here and there, but of course it’s the quality hip-hop numbers such as "My Pen & Pad” and the Floetry-assisted "Automatique” that remind you why Blackalicious are near the front of the pack. At times, The Craft sounds like an opera with its generous use of orchestras and operatic vocals that never seem to fail in lifting brilliant songs like "Give It to You” into another dimension. The Craft might not be that overly different from Blazing Arrow, but Blackalicious are just strengthening their stranglehold.

Do you ever get nostalgic about the early ’90s? Gift of Gab: I consider that time with the Pharcyde, Freestyle Fellowship and what [Solesides] were doing to be the West Coast renaissance, but I think it’s all about moving forward. As soon as you say "those were the days,” then what are you doing now? I think you have to create the best days and there is still great music to be made. We could have another period like [the early ’90s] next year, you know?

What was your involvement in hip-hop like back in high school? I was basically just battling. I was a battle MC first before it was about making records, making money or doing shows. I had some really stiff competition but for the most part I was pretty much crushing everybody. When I wrote my first rhyme I was 12 years old. My friend’s older cousin came over to our building and would pick one person every day and he would just rhyme about them off the top of his head. He would make them a victim and everybody else would be laughing while he would go off for hours. He picked me one day, so I basically had to write a rhyme in self-defense. It just started from there. (Anti)