Top 100 Artists of the Decade: #23 Blackalicious
The Top 100 Artists of the Decade list will be posted over the course of 100 days. On September 23rd, we will post one artist and continue every day until December 31st, when we will unveil our #1 artist of the decade!
Please read our introduction to learn about our nominating and ordering process.
An obligatory "no offense" to whoever produced it, but Gift of Gab's solo album was bunk. It had a couple ill tracks, and Gab was cruising at the constant lyrical peak he's (miraculously) managed to sustain for a decade plus. That leaves the flatness of the album on the shoulders of the producer; the beats were spare, simple, contained, and especially lacked the playfulness that makes Gab's delivery so pristine. When it dropped, I was at an art school with George Watsky (who went on to rhyme with Zion I and others) – we copped the album at the same time and gave it a listen. "Whatchu think, Watsky?" "Gab should have never left Chief Xcel." And that was basically it.
Thing is, Gab had some killer wordplay on 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up, and if he had released it with Xcel under Blackalicious, it would have been their third classic album in a row. Nia and Blazing Arrow are hip hop 101, plain and simple. Xcel understands the Gift's dense, blistering, often charming wordplay, and he's got the funky fluttering beats to match. The bubbly noises on title track "Blazing Arrow" provoke a tingly, lazy-summer-day feeling, and the wah-wah guitar of "4000 Miles" is one of hip hop's unmistakable leads. And though Gab sets himself apart with his humor and wordplay, he can also get serious, as evidenced by racially / socially conscious "Sky is Falling" and the soulful "First and Flight" with spoken word legend Gil Scott Heron. But arguably his best track mixes both: Nia's "Deception" tracks the rise and fall of a rapper ultimately toppled by his ego; the puns and witticisms share equal space with the single most substantial sermon in all of hip hop: "Don't let money change ya…" Most impressive is, in the end, Gab really did follow his own advice, returning after the temporary solo hiccup to Chief Xcel to produce The Craft. Their latest confirmed that, no matter where he roams, Blackalicious will always be his proper home.
- Phillip Taylor-Parker
Check back tomorrow for the next artist! To see the full list of the Top 100 Artists of the Decade, click here.