HHSite: Who are Blackalicious? Chronologically, break it down as far as the other formed groups within the Quannum umbrella?
Chief Xcel: Blackalicious recorded on CD is Chief Xcel and the Gift of Gab. Blackalicious live, when we touring is Chief Xcel, Gift of Gab, Versatile, Joyo Velarde and Lateef the Truth Speaker. Quannum is DJ Shadow, Lyrics Born, Lateef, Gift of Gab and myself. But within that, various groups formed: Blackalicious; Latyrx, which is Lateef and Lyrics Born; Maroons, which is myself and Lateef.
HHSite: So what you trying to do, you trying to confuse us or something?
Chief: (Laughs) We’re just….all you got to know is who the key players are.
HHSite: So far, your entire unit has managed to stick together, unlike so many other organizations. What continues to make you inseparable?
Chief: Just the love of music. We’ve had a friendship that has standed the test of time and we have a common passion for creativity.
Gift of Gab: Our common love for the art and our hunger to innovate and create. Quannum is five different energies that come together to make one, and we feed off of each other’s excitement.
HHSite: On the East Coast, is your name and music almost as popular as it is in CALI?
Chief: New York is actually our third biggest market. It used to be our second, but now LA is our second biggest market. The thing that you have to realize is that the music is a universal thing. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Oakland or Sidney, Australia. People appreciate good music wherever you are. So, we’re just striving to make it universal and bring it to the people around the globe.
HHSite: You seem to stem away from larger distribution companies, but do you feel satisfied within the limiting boundaries of the underground?
Chief: We don’t really like to get into the classifications of underground, overground, or commercial. These are economic terms. We’re just focusing on making good music. In terms of distribution, we want our music to hit as many people as it possibly can, because we making this for the world to hear! So whatever is best for the music or whatever is most appropriate for the music.
HHSite: On your new album, Nia, I think the format is extremely refreshing, with the speeches, skits, poetry, etc. Outside of the music world, who are some of the influences that shaped the direction of this album?
Chief: Family, God….we could go on. Our lives are really consumed with music. As far as outside of music, it’s just the day to day inspirations. Stuff like my little sister going off to College. For Gab, seeing his sisters come to the show and see him rock for the first time. Things like that just kinda inspires us and add fuel to the fire.
HHSite: Musically now, the album’s definitely filled with Soul. But there are so many more musical influences I’m sure that made this the true hip-hop LP that it is.
Chief: It’s really vast, really vast! Everything from Fela Kuti to Bob Marley.
Gift: To Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder.
Chief: To Aretha Franklin.
Chief: Eric B & Rakim, NWA…With us, if it’s good music, it’s good music.
HHSite: So, no boundaries whatsoever?
Gift: It could be folk, opera…. If it’s dope and worth being appreciated, that’s all that really matters.
Chief: On that note, there’s an incredible folk record by this group called Chicago Women’s Freedom Rap Band. It’s dope! No boundaries, no boundaries. There’s country records out there, that got grooves on them that are phat!
HHSite: You’ll also used in some of the interludes, certain figures like Nikki Giovanni, and I think Kwame Ture?
Chief: Yeah it was (Kwame Ture), yeah that’s good man you’re like the first person to notice. That’s dope!
HHSite: “Cliff Hanger”. Everything about this song is truly unique, wide-open and far out there even. It’s such an electrifying groove too.
Gift: That was a song DJ Shadow produced for the album, and a lot of times people focus on being real. Good. You’re supposed to make music about your life, but the thing some people don’t realize, you don’t have to be. You could use your imagination. This is art! This is creativity! There’s no limits. You can make up fictional stories and make good songs. We wanted to do something like that. He played me the track, and we just wanted to tell a fictional story, something that you could really get into, something that was really visual, almost as if you’re watching a movie. It was really fun. When you’re zoning like that, you don’t have any limitations. The cup could start walking, the walls could start breathing.
HHSite: Before a your album even hit the stores, I noticed a jam-packed audience at your show reciting rhyme for rhyme on almost every performed song off the Nia release.
Chief: Last night was special for us – cause it was like our first, proper LA Blackalicious show. It was cool, we been looking forward to coming down here for a long time. LA was really the first reason to really break Blackalicious. It was people like Julio G, Mike Nardon, Sway & Tech, The Beat Junkies, so we got love for LA, we wanted to really come out and give all of our energy.
HHSite: You mentioned you’re trying to reach the world, but since you’re independent, what steps are you taking to accomplish this task?
Chief: The first important step that we took was in 1991 when we formed Soulsides. We didn’t want to be in a position where we were just making demos and going around to labels, trying to get a deal. This transcended into Quannum, a bigger company with a much larger vision for music for all of the artists involved. So, we’re going to get the music out there via the Internet, or via a video. In fact, we just finished the video for “Deception”, which we are very proud of.
HHSite: Tell me this, demographically it seems like a closer a group or artist like your self identifies with hip-hop as the art-form created, the following seems to be 95% white and 5% others. How “blackalicious” are you to black people?
Gift: We’re black people so we speak from a perspective of black men going through the black experience.
Chief: “That’s the whole thing, we just wanted to make good music from our perspective. With our records, we sayin’ take your shoes off, wipe your shoes on the front door mat, and with that we welcome everybody into our home. But first and foremost, you must respect the rules of our house. This is our music, from our perspective. We welcome everybody.
HHSite: Again, this isn’t an isolated question to you only. This could be directed to a number of groups in hip-hop. Why is it that in the audience Black people seem to be the minority? When it comes to real hip-hop, why are we hiding?
Chief: We’re out on the road and we see it! We ask ourselves that question everyday! It’s a very intelligent question, a very good question. A lot of artists in hip-hop have been faced with this for the past ten years. Again, we getting our music to the people and that’s what our role is… I really couldn’t give you an answer as to why the demographics are the way they are. This is something that still baffles me to this day.
Gift: I was about to ask you that! (laughing)
HHSite: Well, this is turning into a discussion that requires much more time to continue.
Chief: In answering your question, you can say that’s an answer we’re still searching for. Still searching.
HHSite: Just like the first track on your album, “Searching”?
Chief: Yup, most def!
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