The gift of rap
Gift of Gab talks skills, idols and birds
On “Protocol,” the lead single on his forthcoming solo album (The Next Logical Progression, due March 27), Sacramento’s Gift of Gab uses hip-hop’s time-honored tradition of belittling one’s contemporaries as a platform to show us just how much ass he kicks. Guest vocalist Samantha Kravitz boasts on his behalf, “Just call me a conscious fool/ who’ll rhyme circles around you/ please respect my protocol/ one by one, I’ll kill you all.” That last bit may seem a little dark, but it’s safe to assume he is isn’t actually warning other rappers of an impending homicidal rampage. (So rest easy, Jay-Z.)
Gift of Gab, the MC-half of hip-hop duo Blackalicious, is coming to Chico’s El Rey Theatre on Saturday, Jan. 21, for a show in advance of his album’s release. While he’ll likely be performing some of the new material, “Protocol” is the only track yet available (download for free at www.thizzler.com).
Instrumentally, “Protocol” is a feel-good stroll in the park. A nifty little acoustic piano riff provides a bouncy backdrop for Gab’s catch-me-if-you-can flow, which is delivered in one long uninterrupted verse sandwiched between ear-worm vocal refrains.
He raps: “You know diddly-squat/ I know rhythm, it’s like I’m Bo Diddley/ rock ’n’ roll history stocked in your memory/ box your flow it’ll be/ chopped in whole cities ’n’ blocks.”
Gab’s polished delivery is full of clever double entendres, internal rhymes, rhythmic surprises and hitches. Rather like the flashiest of lead guitarists and piano masters, he enjoys flaunting the fact that he is in complete control of his instrument. One notorious example is the 1999 Blackalicious track “Alphabet Aerobics,” on which Gab takes alliteration to a whole new level. He devotes two syllable-packed lines to each letter of the alphabet (“Casually create catastrophes, casualties/ Canceling cats got their canopies collapsing”) increasing the tension as he keeps pace with a steadily increasing tempo. Although the song’s climax is frantic, he still makes it sound easy.
So how did Gab get so gifted? As with most musicians who achieve a high level of technical ability, he started young.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 12 years old, so there are a couple decades of experience,” he said during a recent phone interview. “After you do something so many times, it’s just second nature. There were times in the beginning, especially before the first big shows, where I would get nervous. But after you just keep at it for so long, it just becomes what you do.”
Gab is best known for his work with Blackalicious, a duo including himself and producer/DJ Chief Xcel that has gained a high level of popularity in the realm of independent rap. That Blackalicious retains a distinctly old-school feel is no mistake—Xcel has been noted for producing “classic” hip-hop beats, and Gab looks to all-time greats like KRS-One, Run DMC and Chuck D when citing influences.
“I’m a student of hip-hop, period,” he said. “All of those guys are influences, as well as just music in general. Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder, even the way birds communicate with each other. I’m a listener.”
Most of the production work on The Next Logical Progression is handled by G Koop, a musician and producer who transposed hummed musical phrases Gab would record throughout the course of his day into full-length beats. If “Protocol” is any indication, the new album will heavily emphasize live instrumentation and will have a much different feel in comparison to a Blackalicious record. Expect the same for his show at the El Rey.
“It’s the same difference as the records—Blackalicious is me and Xcel, and when you get us together we have a certain chemistry,” Gab said. “I’m all about the lyrics; he brings the music, the soul, the flavor. I’m just an MC.”
As he prepares for an eight-date solo tour of the West Coast, he and Chief Xcel are about seven songs into the new Blackalicious album, which fans can expect late this year or in early 2013. Don’t expect any hints as to how that album will sound, though.
“Nope, I’m not saying,” he said with a laugh. “That’s top-secret information.”