Blackalicious, the Northern California duo of rapper Gift of Gab and DJ/producer Chief Xcel, return with their fifth album, The Craft, today. The pair see the work as a culmination of their nearly two-decade career as one of hip-hop's longest-lasting producer and MC outfits.
"When we first started, our models were groups like Kool G Rap and Polo and De La Soul and, later, Gangstarr," says Xcel. "Those groups formed the blueprint of what we thought a dope group should be."
Now eighteen years later, the two believe The Craft to be their most rigorously produced album. "I did anywhere from 100 to 120 beats for this record," says Xcel. "Gab wrote about forty or fifty of them, and we chopped that down to the fourteen songs that we felt best told the story and painted the picture. We just kept pushing and pushing and pushing each other to dig harder and deeper."
The result is an album that stays true to the Blackalicious sound, with unique oddball beats matched by Gab's speedy, energetic abstract rhymes. Like a West Coast version of OutKast (in their Aquemini days), The Craft is funk-infused hip-hop. Maybe that's why George Clinton sounds right at home on the track "Lotus Flower," with the "godfather of funk" begging that you "let the song take you places."
While on the track "My Pen and Pad," Gab confirms himself as a phenomenal lyricist who could battle any of today's multi-platinum-selling MCs, on "Black Diamonds and Pearls" the rapper takes inspiration less from the game and more from his family. "I have a niece that had kids at a young age and went through all these hardships," he explains, "and now she lives in Atlanta with her husband and her kids, and they own several homes. It's like she's a person that got stronger from that situation instead of letting it take control of her."
Meanwhile, as Gab and Xcel tour the U.S. through October 2nd, they hope for a long life for their latest. "We've built our fan base brick by brick," says Gab. "We didn't get a platinum record. But the thing is, people still buy [2000's] Nia and [2002's] Blazing Arrow to this day. Hopefully, in five and ten years, people will still buy The Craft. Those are the types of records that we strive to make."