Blackalicious are a Bay Area rap act that got their start back in ’87 when founding members rapper Gift of Gab and DJ/producer Chief Xcel met when they were students at John F. Kennedy High School in Sacramento.  When they graduated in ’89 they went their separate ways but were reunited 3 years later in Davis where Xcel was a student at UC Davis and Gift of Gab moved to Davis to form Blackalicious with him.  A little bit of trivia for those of you who listen to some hip-hop, at Davis Xcel was working with a hip-hop crew named SoleSides, whose members included DJ Shadow, Lyrics Born and Lateef the Truth Speaker – pretty illustrious group.  Anyway,  Blackalicious released their first single in ’94 that got the attention of alternative rap audiences.  The next year they released an EP and followed that up two years later with another EP.  Finally in 2000 they released their first proper album, “Nia”.  This led to the duo being signed by a major label, MCA, 8 years after they formed.  Their first major label release in ’02 “Blazing Arrow”, had guest appearances by Zach de la Rocha (RATM), Questlove (the Roots) and Gil Scott-Heron.  Both albums received plenty of critical acclaim but they were not commercial hits.  The two then worked on some solo projects but then got back together to release their third album “The Craft” in 2005.    Fast forward 10 years later after multiple solo releases from Gift of Gab and Xcel working on some other projects and the duo put out their fourth album “Imani, Vol. 1” last year.
One of best things about Blackalicious is their overall positive vibe, they focus on being more spiritual and uplifting which is a breath of fresh air for rap music.  You hear a lot of old school rap, some jazz, plenty of funk and plenty of grooves they lock firmly into throughout each of their albums.  You can even play them with kids around (so rare for rap music).  I always enjoy listening to them because they put off such a great vibe and Gift of Gab is a very talented rapper.  “Imani, Vol. 1” is the first of a planned trilogy, which hopefully they’re able to eventually complete.  There are many solid songs on the 16 tracks that make up “Imani, Vol. 1”, and here’s a sampling of 3 for you to check out.  Give these guys a chance, they’re a great go to when you want to listen to something different or want to pick your spirits up a bit.
“Escape” – This track is all about the piano line that anchors the song.  Match that up with some strings and you have very atypical music for a rap track.  That piano is utilized exceptionally well, I was blown away the first time I heard this track.  Besides the excellent music, Gift of Gab spins an interesting tale about the struggle a guy faces as he struggles to evolve from an OG to a real man.  Then the song ends with a nice instrumental section that sounds nothing like hip-hop except for the beat.  There’s a little interlude section that plays over the last minute that can just be skipped.

“The Sun” – This track immediately follows “Escape” on the album and it’s a very uplifting positive song.  The keyboard riff, the chorus which is beautifully sung by guest Imani Coppola and how well Xcel blends the sounds together make this a monster track that should pick-up almost anyone’s spirits.  Who the hell writes a rap song about the sun? ( I love that they did it though).  They really leverage the spiritual side of the band with the lyrics.  If you’re feeling a bit down, throw on “The Sun” and pick your spirits up!

“Alpha and Omega” – This track is a little more hard hitting and shows some of the form Gift of Gab has for his fast rapping style that he featured more prominently in his younger days.  Xcel deftly uses some horn samples on this song to add some brassy accompaniment.  This song also features Lyrics Born and Lateef who Xcel played with back in his days at Davis with SoleSides.  This song is a lot of fun and brings a little bit of funk.

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