October 6, 2005

Blackalicious: The Craft

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Hip-hop is ridden with a terrible disease that, to the dismay of fans, strikes many of its healthiest MC’s. Just when they finish a bumpin’ first album and wow crowds across the nation with a charismatic tour, egoism, like a cancer, becomes a part of their personality. Unlike their colleagues from the past who took a turn for the worst upon achieving success, Blackalicious’s producer Chief Xcel and MC The Gift of Gab have not evolved into another has-been group. Although they do find their popular approval a reason to consider themselves on some holy mission to spread a positive message – “Musically I’m transcendin’ the physical / And don’t blame me for the slang and the words / God writes these rhymes through me – I just listen to Him” – they never compromise hip-hop’s integrity. With this context in mind, most of the songs on The Craft drifts between a sense of suppressed anger finally showing itself or tender compassion and the encouragement of virtue for all mankind.

For example, “Supreme People” aims at liberating the average day worker who toils but never seems to see any improvement. The lyrics note that society forces you to work for an unworthy material goal – “We don’t really need money / But certain people need power over people / They act like that cuz they’re trapped inside their egosphere / And now you can’t feel free / Without them your stressin’ so anxiously.”

Another song, “The Rise and Fall of Elliot Brown,” tells the tale of a repeat criminal who one day overcame the destructive environments of the streets and the prisons. While in the cell, “He got honest / Started to read and acquire that self knowledge / Learned he was royalty and didn’t come from garbage / How to embrace struggle and learn from his problems / And true wealth is healthy, family, and a higher consciousness.”

But The Craft isn’t all serious moral lectures and protest. Probably the most club-ready song, “Side to Side” focuses on biddies at the bar and the need to “Just shut up and ride the groove.” But, like all other songs on this album, the way the Gift of Gab puts his words together, in an incredibly precise, rock-steady alliteration, makes up for any vulgarity their meaning may have.

The Craft, unfortunately, has an extremely electronically engineered sound to it. Although live musicians are credited and the back-up vocals are also sung with passion, they are unable to take us back to the slightly sloppy, jazzy, funky feel of Nia or Melodica. Gospel-ly organs and bass lines pop their heads in for a few seconds but an angrier, hard rock-influenced guitar gives The Craft less positive vibrations. Nevertheless, it’s gratifying to know that groups like Blackalicious still care about the people who listen to what their music is saying.

Archived article by Elliot Singer
Sun Staff Writer