Something to talk about
Blackalicious MC Gift of Gab returns to his hometown for a night of intelligent hip-hop
Gift of Gab had the day off—one day to take it easy after 26 shows in 30 days while touring to support his solo album, 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up. He spent that day on the phone giving interviews, including this one. Gab, as his agent introduced him, is not one for relaxing.
Gift of Gab’s name clearly comes from his rapping and not from his demeanor on the telephone. It was tempting to ask if he would rap his responses in order to get more out of him. Though his answers were short and efficient, it was clear that Gab was excited about bringing his tour to Sacramento. “I went to high school at Kennedy High,” he said. “My brother’s out there. I have friends out there.”
Gab reminisced about his early days rapping with friends. “I’ve been doing this since I was 12 years old,” he recalled. “We did a show in Davis. We used to perform at rallies and stuff. I Met Xcel at Kennedy, found out we had a common love.”
After high school, Gab headed to southern California and Xcel enrolled at UC Davis. “X went to Davis and that’s where he met Lyrics Born and Shadow and the rest of the crew.” As DJ Shadow, Lyrics Born (then known as Asia Born) and other Davis hip-hop artists began pushing the envelope of what could be done with the genre, Gab could not resist and made his way back up north to join in the fun.
These hip-hop experimenters formed Solesides Records and, later, Quannum Projects. The label is owned by Lyrics Born, Lateef the Truth Speaker, DJ Shadow, Chief Xcel and Gift of Gab. In 1992, they began releasing their brand of hip-hop out to the masses. Latryx (featuring Lyrics Born and Lateef the Truth Speaker) became a cult favorite and, while a limited amount of people have heard Latryx: The Album, you can bet anyone producing hip-hop at least has a bootleg.
Quannum also put out platters by Blackalicious, the collaboration between Gab and DJ Xcel. In a climate where rap was migrating increasingly toward misogyny, violence and “bling,” Blackalicious served up articulate, intelligent lyrics. On the duo’s recordings, Gab’s rhymes come fast but not furious, utilizing alliteration and tricky rhyme patterns to rap about the state of world, black identity, and spirituality.
Gab remembered the days following the release of the duo’s first singles. “Compared to other things that were out, we knew we were making good music,” he said. “We were just happy to have it pressed up and to have it out. That was our dream come true. Whether it would catch on or not we didn’t know.” The music did catch on, enough so that MCA came calling.
So how does an underground hip-hop act deal with a major label? “One of the things going into it was we had creative control,” Gab explained. “Going into it we had our fan base already, so we weren’t just coming to them with, like, a demo.” Gab and Xcel ended up with a unique deal that allows them to continue to release projects on Quannum while recording for MCA.
And at the end of the day, Gift of Gab is one of the few artists in the underground scene with positive things to say regarding his major-label experiences. “It was an opportunity to expand the fan base and that’s always good. That’s the only reason we did what we did with MCA. The pitfall [to being on an independent label] is, you look at things like radio play or video play and that’s all major label. The major labels pay them to play that stuff.”
Blackalicious will continue to utilize the power of the big labels, though the band will switch to Epitaph Records for its next album. In the meantime, there is work to be done and a tour to finish. “Expect a great show, a lot of energy, a lot of crowd participation, and some real hip-hop.” Gift of Gab promised of his May 5 show at Harlow’s.
When told that he seems to work nonstop Gab responded, “Got to. ‘On to the next project.’ That’s our philosophy.”