Underground Essentials | Blackalicious
In a late 80’s Sacramento Highschool, two teenagers planted the roots of hip hop stardom in their lives. Tim Parker (soon to be known as Gift of Gab) and Xavier Mosley (a.k.a Chief Xcel) went through the last few grades of school together, but it wouldn’t be until their University years that the duo would link up to birth Blackalicious. Cultivated by the tight-knit rap community at University of California Davis, the rapper and producer have released essential underground hip hop albums while never sacrificing their art. If you haven’t been educated on Blackalicious yet, it’s time! You came to the right place.
It all began with the Solesides collective. This relatively small group of hip hop artists would be the breeding ground for much of the duo’s success, but it didn’t happen overnight. Mosley (Chief Xcel) had been involved with much of the DJ culture in the college town, and that turned out to be a major plus when Parker (Gift of Gab) moved to UC Davis with the intention of teaming up to make something big. While the collective themselves began to put out music here and there, the duo would waste no time in dropping the EP Melodica, the 1995 debut of Blackalicious. Quickly gaining buzz, it was apparent that they needed to prove themselves as the conscious, musical powerhouse that was coming together. After dropping yet another EP, Solesides Records became the infamous Quannum Projects. The duo would drop one more small collection of songs titled A2G, before making their mark with the debut album of Blackalicious in 1999.
Picking Up Speed
Ending the decade the right way, their album Nia instantly caught the attention of a large chunk of the underground. With characteristic flows and complex rhymes, Gift of Gab alternates between storytelling and detailed high-speed rapping. Unlike fellow contemporaries that would be lumped into the same category, Blackalicious stood out with Chief Xcel’s pristine production and catchy hooks from his partner. Songs like “Deception” would go on to be sampled by the likes of Rae Sremmurd (“This Could Be Us”). It’s easy to see that the album was inspired by acts of their same era, but the execution was so tight that many new-age rappers can relate to the fact that Nia and Blackalicious would have ripple effects on the music scene and their music for a long time.
Landing their major label debut with MCA, the duo dropped their second studio album, Blazing Arrow. With themes of persistence, courage, and faith laid out across the most diverse instrumentation yet, 2000 was the year Blackalicious showcased that they weren’t a flash in the pan. Although the 2nd album may have boasted better features, the 2006 follow up The Craft brought to the table their most organic and cohesive project yet. Dynamic and wide-ranging while remaining as immersive as ever, this shining example of a project would cement them in the pantheon of iconic artists.
In 2015, Imani Vol. 1 arrived to cap off their discography. Originally the first installment in a trilogy, we’ve still been left waiting for Vol. 2 let alone 3. Easily meeting the high bar of quality set by the first 3 projects, this album represents an impressive show of skill by both rapper and producer/DJ. Though Gift of Gab references the previous album as his favorite, it’s clear that neither of them skipped a beat when creating their latest record. He himself released a few solo albums in 2004, 2009, and 2012. 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up, Escape 2 Mars, and The Next Logical Progression (respectively) would only further prove that Parker was a force to be reckoned with in the world of lyricism and conscious rap. While Chief Xcel hasn’t been quite as prolific on his own, his work speaks for itself. Providing the soundscapes to these impactful albums, his touch on the legacy of Blackalicious will always remain understated.
“A bad day’ll make you really notice ones that’s good
And that’ll make things a little better understood
Times I feel I wanna shout, man it’s real that way
When I think of things that make you feel that way”
(“Make You Feel like that,” Blackalicious)
Icons of the Game
From small underground stages to insanely packed festival shows, the rise of Blackalicious proved something to every other aspiring artist- that talent and high quality music will leave its mark even when not aimed at the masses. Champions of complex bars and conscious language, Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel together created timeless records that will echo throughout the game for a long, long time. Case-in-point examples of what focus and a vision can do, Blackalicious have definitely earned their place in the hall of underground essentials.