By Katharine Sawchuk
VANCOUVER — After more than two decades of rock solid beats and legendary rhymes, there’s still a lot of momentum behind Blackalicous and the hip-hop group’s two members, Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel. This year marks the 17th anniversary of their EP, A2G, which hosts tracks like the insane lyrical head-spinner “Alphabet Aerobics” (“Detonate a dime of dank daily doing dough/Demonstrations, Don Dada on the down low” – and that’s just for the letter D.) They’re also continuing to tour and receive praise for their latest studio album, last year’s release, Imani Vol. 1.
Xcel says there’s a tie-in between touring and creating new music. In fact, the Blackalicious DJ explains that collecting records from around the world has contributed to the foundation of their sound. “Those things that we discovered, those are things we constantly learn from,” he says. “You get to the point where you revisit things you may not have listened to for 10 to 15 years and learn something new from it. There’s also the piece of it in terms of just the craft, and that is being able to learn from those things by examining them and then going in and musically taking it to another level of going in a new direction.”
If you speak to anyone who’s familiar with Blackalicious, they would likely describe the duo as ‘classic.’ Classic because of their dope, playful beats, but also because of the journey Gift of Gab’s tongue-twisting lyricism takes you on. Xcel believes lyricism is something that’s never really gone away from rap. “We’re at the point now where certain artists can push popular culture, and push the pendulum. So the pendulum shifts back in the direction of great lyricists,” he says. “Each generation has to have its own vanguard. It takes a generation of having its own vanguard to push the intention of the art form or certain aspects of the art form back into whether you want to call it the mainstream, or the limelight or back into the forefront of people’s consciousness. I think the current generation of people like Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul and Jay Rock – who are all very lyrical – they help do that. Because you have to realize it’s all a continuum, and each generations’ goal is to contribute to the continuum.”
As for their own continuum, Xcel says there’s a lot to look out for, including their next album, Imani Vol. 2, and a world tour with stops in the U.K. and eventually Africa. Being able to tour and perform for audiences around the world is something Xcel takes pride in. He says there’s an everlasting importance of being able to knock out a live show.
“I think that’s a vital part. That’s the second dimension of what we do, being able to make the music literally come alive. It comes alive from interaction, and it’s an interactive experience. Once you’re able to perform and execute live what we executed in the studio, then its’ all full circle at that point.”
The duo has most certainly come full circle, and throughout the course of this journey amassed twenty-plus years of hip-hop fans, including rad dads.
“We had a show in San Francisco and in the front row, there was a nine and ten-year-old. They were there with their father, who was probably mid-thirties. So we literally see every age demographic. I mean, you’ll see from the youngest of the young to seniors; we’ll see people in their sixties. It’s really a cool thing,” Xcel says.
Blackalicious perform at Fortune Sound Club on June 11.BC, Blackalicious, British Columbia, Fortune Sound Club