Despite having four full-length albums (plus a few EP and off shoot projects) to their credit, Blackalicious is still relatively unknown to the general public. Which is a crime, considering that the groups full, musical sound can easily be compared to groups like Outkast, The Roots, The Fugees, or Kanye West, but still is a style all their own. While original members of the Solesides/Quannum collective, they banded with MCA for their last release, Blazing Arrow, but due to politics never saw a video on MTV or BET, therefore dooming the record’s sales (at least by the major label standard). Their fourth album, The Craft, finds the duo of producer Chief Xcel and emcee Gift of Gab back on the indy circuit, this time with powerhouse punk imprint, Epitaph.
The Craft pretty much picks up where Blazing Arrow left off, weaving fourteen tracks together into one long musical opus. The sound of the album is largely diverse, thanks to the long list of musicians, vocalists, and guest emcees that participated in the album, yet maintains a beautiful sense of synergy as it plays throughout. Gab and Xcel are an evenly matched team, making it impossible to choose who is the “star” of the group. Gab proves himself as easily one of the most talented emcees in the game, almost never using the same style twice on the record. “Rhythm Sticks” reintroduces Blackalicious to the world, as Gab kicks alphabet aerobics, spelling the group’s name out over a full arrangement of snapping drums, guitars, flutes, and cuts from Xcel. He shows off again on “My Pad and Pen”, a two minute lyrical exercise that finds Gab building his flow with the beat, ending with a ridiculous climax that might make Eminem say “Damn”. But it’s not all style over substance; in fact, Gab uses his platform to broach various societal issues. “The Fall and Rise of Elliot Brown” is a “Deception” like narrative that begins with Gab portraying the character on a get-rich-or-die-trying mission, which ultimately lands him in prison, where he finds redemption. Chief Xcel’s gorgeous arrangement of pianos, percussion, bass, and horns wonderfully animates this tale of self-improvement. This leads into the conscious “Black Diamonds and Pearls”, which takes a page from Nas’ “If I Ruled The World”, where Gab examines some of the long-term effects of drug dealing.
But as mentioned before, all praises due are not just to Gab, as it’s Xcel’s backdrops that make Gift’s rhymes shine so bright. The musical spectrum of this record is so vast, that it’s virtually impossible to detect where Xcel will take you next, celebrating a diverse mix of sounds and styles. “Powers” plays almost like a surf rock song, as Gab flexes his vocal chops with mostly sung lyrics. “Lotus Flower” is a glob of cosmic slop complete with a hook from George Clinton, while Gab tries out his early Common-esque “voice-crack flow”. The smoothed out “Automatique” is also notable, as Floetry lend their airy vocals to this mellow head-nodder.
There’s really only one stinker on this album, “Ego Sonic Wardrums”, which finds Gab and Freestyle Fellowship’s PEACE getting their Indian war chants on, and Xcel’s frantic track doesn’t help much either. But by the time the last track hits, The Craft, you quickly forget about the album’s sole misstep. As a whole, this LP further solidifies Blackalicious as a positive force to be reckoned with, heavy on both substance and style.
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