Underground Rapper of the Week: Gift of Gab

Underground Rapper of the Week is a new feature designed to raise awareness of rappers from all over the world who, if that world were a perfect place, would be more famous than they are. It will be updated every Tuesday before the sun goes down. Feel free to email suggestions of slept-on rappers from your city or wherever to: ezra.stead@gmail.com

Few underground rappers are more innovative and influential than California’s Gift of Gab, best known as the emcee half of the great Hip-Hop duo Blackalicious, complemented by DJ Chief Xcel. Gab is well-known by heads everywhere for his amazing verbal dexterity and immediately recognizable style, as well as his uncommon intelligence and careful enunciation on the mic. “Alphabet Aerobics,” from Blackalicious’ 1999 A2G EP, is a perfect example of his showy, technical side, as he flips a continuous stream of lyrics that only speeds up and gets more complex as he cycles through the entire alphabet, devoting approximately two bars to each letter.

However, Gab is not just a gimmicky, smarter-than-thou rapper’s rapper. What really sets him apart is his insightful, positive and elevating lyrical content, as heard on songs like “Shallow Days,” from Blackalicious’ 1999 debut full-length, Nia, where he laments the superficiality of consciousness in Hip-Hop culture: “The word ‘peace’ is just an expression / Used to say ‘bye’ when it’s time to jet and / Them red, black and green medallions / Was all just part of a trend, I guess / Hardly ever see them around brothers’ necks no more.” Tracks like this and the storytelling anthem, “Deception,” on which he chants the mantra, “Don’t let money change you,” show Gab to be relentlessly positive and forward-thinking, though he is quick to remind listeners he is not judging anyone for how they might be forced to live. As he says on “My Pen and Pad,” from Blackalicious’ 2005 album, The Craft, he is “never an anti-gangster – the ghetto is still in the mind.”

As great as A2G, Nia and The Craft are, Blackalicious’ indisputable masterpiece is 2002′s Blazing Arrow, a truly epic collection that feels like a culmination of everything the Xcel and Gab had done up to that point. It also features stellar work from a variety of other artists affiliated with Blackalicious and the Quannum Projects, including Nikki Giovanni, Gil Scott-Heron, DJ Shadow, Lyrics Born, Saul Williams, Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine, and Chali 2na of Jurassic 5, among others. My introduction to the wonders of Blackalicious began with the apocalyptic “Sky Is Falling,” on which Gab paints a dark picture of a world in which “juveniles is losing trials, catching a bid of murder one / And mothers is drinking and drugging, hoeing, searching for their sons.” Blazing Arrow is full of gems like that song, as is Blackalicious’ entire catalogue.

Since The Craft, Gift of Gab has been pursuing a solo career, releasing three albums in the past eight years, beginning with 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up in 2004. His 2009 follow-up, Escape 2 Mars, features the excellent song, “Dreamin,” featuring Del the Funky Homosapien and Brother Ali, and his latest, The Next Logical Progression, was released earlier this year. Whether blowing your mind with his technical prowess, making you think about the troubles of the world, or just bringing a smile to your face, Gift of Gab is all about making listeners feel something.

Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2010: Staff Writer Mike Heyliger’s picks

I seriously can’t remember the last time I’ve had to struggle with a list of my favorite music in a particular year. Actually, I can, so I should clarify: I seriously can’t remember the last time I’ve had so much good music to choose from when paring down my list of favorites for the year. Upon looking at my CD collection (yes, I’m one of those guys), I still see another 10 or 20 albums that could make the list if I listen more carefully. But without the benefit of the free time it would take to check those CDs out, here’s a list of the 20 best albums I’ve heard in 2010.

1. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
As much as Kanye’s childish tirades infuriate me, I’ll be damned if his music doesn’t always win me over. Fantasy is amazing from just about every facet: musically, lyrically, thematically. I’ll forgive ‘Ye for a million idiotic public statements if he keeps making music like this.

2. Gil Scott-Heron: I’m New Here
One of two albums in my Top 20 recorded by artists re-emerging after a 14-year absence, I’m New Here is a haunting listen. The ravages of time have wreaked havoc on Scott-Heron’s voice, but much like Bob Dylan’s most recent work, age has given the artist’s voice additional resonance.

3. The Black Keys: Brothers
Sometimes the album that breaks a band through to a mainstream audience is indeed their best work. That’s definitely the case with the Black Keys’ Brothers. Bluesy garage-rock with enough hooks to keep guys like me interested, I feel like this is the album Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney were aiming for with their Danger Mouse-helmed Attack & Release album. As it turned out, they didn’t (really) need Danger Mouse, anyway, just their bad selves and the ghosts of Muscle Schoals, Alabama.

4. The Roots: How I Got Over
Can someone give these guys a medal for the most consistently awesome act not only in hip-hop, but in music period? I feel like the Roots are incapable of making a bad album even if they tried to. Although I suppose if they replaced Black Thought with Jimmy Fallon…

5. Cee Lo Green: The Lady Killer
“Fuck You” (or “Forget You,” if you’re easily offended) was a gimmick single, sure. However, even gimmick singles can be genius, and what’s more is that the Goodie Mob/Gnarls Barkley frontman was able to back the promise of that song up with an incredible album. I wish he rapped more, but when you can outsing just about every artist in contemporary pop and R&B, I guess you can be excused.


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