Gift of Gab puts on his scoopy hat and nibbles pizza
Sacramento, CA 95816
“It was a great time in hip-hop. You had brothers like Brotha Lynch Hung. … Them was cats that would come up to Kennedy. You had battles, and you had emcees coming out and doing ciphers,” Tim “Gift of Gab” Parker reminisced about his years attending John F. Kennedy High School. The thought of the Gift of Gab, who helped define indie-rap lyricism, trading freestyles with the infamously “sicc” gangsta rapper Brotha Lynch Hung boggles the mind.
“This was pre-N.W.A., before the content in hip-hop shifted. It was different back in those days,” Gab counsels.
That was in the late ’80s, when the Gift of Gab formed Blackalicious with schoolmate Xavier “Chief Xcel” Mosley. After graduating from Kennedy in 1989, Gab briefly returned to his native Los Angeles before Xcel enticed him to attend UC Davis, where several hip-hop fanatics—DJ Shadow, Lyrics Born, Lateef the Truthspeaker, journalist Jeff Chang and (briefly) journalist/filmmaker Joseph Patel—had formed the SoleSides collective. Before it dissolved in 1998 (and became Quannum Projects, which still operates today), SoleSides became a defining independent-rap label and launched Blackalicious’ career.
Fast-forward several years, three acclaimed Blackalicious albums (including Blazing Arrow, which MCA Records released in 2002), and influential EPs, like ’94’s Melodica and ’99’s A2G, to now.
Gab is hastily preparing for another U.S. tour. Calling from his home in the Bay Area (he still has a brother who lives in Sacramento), he sounds rushed during the phone interview, gives short and clipped answers, and at one point apologizes for scarfing down pizza while talking.
The trek is titled The Deadliest Catch Tour, after the action-packed Discovery Channel reality series about Alaskan-crab fishermen. Gab and his tourmates Chali 2na, Mr. Lif and Lyrics Born are equally weathered lifers. Each has suffered miserable experiences with record companies and endured slingshots from pop critics, who dismiss them as “backpackers” stubbornly sticking to real hip-hop. (How quaint!)
Yet each has thrived under difficult circumstances, often performing more than 100 concerts a year in packed nightclubs and bars around the world.
Escape 2 Mars, Gab’s second solo album, dropped earlier this November via L.A. imprint Cornerstone R.A.S. His last one, ’04’s 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up, had a cosmic theme, too, exploring inner space through “Stardust” metaphors and dense battle tracks delivered in double time (i.e., rapping really fast).
But this album is decidedly earthbound, less a space fantasy than a dystopia. “Electric Waterfalls” drench the planet with acid rain while bureaucrats quibble over oil. “Escape 2 Mars,” because society is collapsing from global warming, leaving only the insects as survivors. Even when he tries to relax and “clear my chi out” on “In Las Vegas,” he ends up partying in the casinos, losing all his money while in a drunken stupor.
Gab manages a buoyant ending of sorts with “Rhyme Travel,” where he fancifully breaks down the science of writing a rap. But for the most part, Escape 2 Mars is a dark journey set against relatively new producer Dnaebeats’ electronic fusions.
“The music aspect is what really invokes the emotion,” says Gab of Dnae’s yearning, melancholy sounds. But he modestly downplays his weighty lyrics, which are delivered with palpable fervor. Instead, he refers to himself a “reporter,” someone who merely raps about what he sees.
“I went through a period when I was watching a lot of movies about global warming, and getting a lot of information about that, and conspiracy-theory movies. And at the end of the day, this is just information that I processed and put into music,” he says. “As an emcee, it’s very important to be an observer, because you have to report from your point of view how you see the world.
“I just like to take listeners on a journey, man. I just want people to enjoy the music, y’know?”