Gift of Gab, the nimble rapper in Bay Area duo Blackalicious known for his clever wordplay and tricky rhyming acrobatics, has died at the age of 50.
“It is with heavy hearts and great sadness that we announce the passing of our dear brother, Timothy J. Parker a.k.a. “The Gift of Gab,” the hip-hop collective Quannum announced Friday. “Tim peacefully departed this earth to be with our ancestors on Friday, June 18, 2021. He is survived by two brothers, one sister, many nieces and nephews, countless friends, and fans across the globe. We ask that the family’s privacy is respected as we mourn the tremendous loss of our dear brother.”
A representative for Blackalicious confirmed to Rolling Stone that Parker died of natural causes. In recent years, the rapper suffered from kidney failure, undergoing dialysis multiple times a week until finally receiving a new kidney in January 2020, which also marked Blackalicious’ final concert prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Our brother was an MCs’ MC who dedicated his life to his craft. One of the greatest to ever do it,” Blackalicious DJ and Parker’s longtime friend and bandmate Xavier “Chief Xcel” Mosley said in a statement. “He’s the most prolific person I’ve ever known. He was all about pushing the boundaries of his art form in the most authentic way possible. He truly believed in the healing power of music. He viewed himself as a vessel used by a higher power whose purpose was to give positive contributions to humanity through Rhyme.”
DJ Shadow, a frequent collaborator, shared a tribute on Instagram, writing, “Gab loved to think of life as just a momentary stage of a much longer journey and all its trials and tribulations as ‘training’ for the adventures to come after. If there’s one thing I know, wherever Gab is, he’s soaring right now.”
Born in Sacramento on October 7th, 1971, Parker attended high school with Mosley in the California capital, eventually forming Blackalicious while Mosley was a student at nearby University of California Davis; it was there that the duo linked up with fellow Davis-area artists DJ Shadow and Lyrics Born.
After a series of EPs in the mid-Nineties — culminating with 1999’s A2G, featuring the duo’s most enduring and awe-inspiring track, “Alphabet Aerobics” — Blackalicious released their acclaimed debut album in 1999, Nia. On “Alphabet Aerobics,” Gift of Gab showcased his sharp lyricism and unflappable, tongue-twisting delivery, delivering an uninterrupted rap where the first letter of every word in each verse focused on a particular letter.
“Furious, fat, fabulous, fantastic / Flurries of funk felt, feeding the fanatics,” Parker rapped on the track. “Gift got great, global goods gone glorious / Gettin’ godly in his game with the goriest.” (Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe brought the track back into the viral spotlight in 2014 when he impressively performed “Alphabet Aerobics” on The Tonight Show.)
Blackalicious signed with then-major label MCA for their second album, 2002’s Blazing Arrow, featuring guests like Gil Scott-Heron, Ben Harper, Cut Chemist (who produced “Alphabet Aerobics” and the album’s quasi-sequel “Chemical Calisthenics”) and Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha.
While Blackalicious would only release two more albums together — 2005’s The Craft and 2015’s crowdfunded Imani Vol. 1 — the duo would remain active, touring most recently in 2020. Gift of Gab also released a trio of solo albums, most recently 2012’s The Next Logical Progression, and LPs with the Bay Area supergroups Quannum MCs and the Mighty Underdogs.
At the time of his death, Parker left behind over 100 tracks for future Blackalicious releases. “Some of those were already slated for the next release, but more of Gab’s lyrical genius will be heard for years to come,” a rep said in a statement announcing Parker’s death.
Blackalicious’ and Parker’s longtime manager Brian Ross added in a statement, “He was one of the most positive human beings I have ever known and always looking toward the future. He was endlessly brimming with new ideas, philosophical perspectives, and thoughts about the future. He was always ready to learn, grow and engage in a deep conversation about things he was less familiar with. A simple conversation with him about nearly anything could take you places you would never have expected.”
Blackalicious – “First in Flight”
Blackalicious – “Deception”
Gift of Gab – “Freedom Form Flowing”
Blackalicious – “Alphabet Aerobics” Live