Feature: Gift of Gab of Blackalicious
By Aaris A. Schroeder
July 9, 2007
Formed in ’91 as Blackalicious after attending John F. Kennedy High School together in the late ‘80s in Sacramento, CA, Xavier Mosely known as DJ Iceski at the time and now as Chief Xcel along with Tim Parker, known as Gift of Gab and to his friends and family Gab or Gabby still religiously create, distribute and perform their conscious, intellectual spoken word type of hip-hop to open ears and minds.
Solesides was created in Davis, CA by some of the KDVS radio kids and when Gab moved there in ’92, he met up with such underground greats as DJ Shadow, Lyrics Born and Lateef the Truth Speaker, known as Latyrx – all of whom still work and perform together to this day. Blackalicious recorded, “Melodica” through SoleSides, featuring one of their more famous songs, “40 oz. for Breakfast.” After Melodica was released, Blackalicious was named, “Bay Area’s most important new hip-hop group” by local media sources, according to Blackalicious.
Interesting fact, in ’97 Solesides evolved into Quannum which was a three year project in the making. Their next album, “Nia” was their first project through the new label, Quannum.
In ’99, Blackalicious recorded their E.P. A2G featuring, “Alphabet Aerobics” an intellectual poetry piece that is a tribute to the alphabet, running from A through Z, making use of words not in most people’s vocabulary.
“We are fans of the music; we have our minds set on the type of music we wanna hear as fans. It would be really hard for us to ignore the art,” Gab says. “Alphabet Aerobics” was collaborated through Blackalicious and Cut Chemist of Jurassic 5.
“Blazing Arrow” released shortly after Blackalicious was signed to MCA Records from Quannum, is a testament to the guys, they say.
“’Nia’ was really about purpose and finding the path, “says Xcel, “’Blazing Arrow’ is about faith, having the strength to endure that path. It’s an arrow in flight.”
“Blazing Arrow,” released in ’02 features “bangers,” as Gab puts it, such as “Passions,” featuring Rakaa, “4000 Miles” with Lateef and Chali 2Na, “Art of Mind” and “Paragraph President.” Hi-Tek, Jonell, Jaguar, Gil Scott-Heron, Zach De La Rocha and Saul Williams are also featured on this album.
“When blessings come, sometimes you can celebrate but most of the time it means that you have to work harder,” says Gab, “You may have a vision and you may get close to that vision but then it broadens. Every time you move towards on it, it always gets bigger.”
With all these goals and dreams in mind, it is no wonder these guys have what it takes to succeed on a massive level in part of the music industry that you don’t see much success. A mainstream hip-hop or rap album, one may say doesn’t offer as much information, enlightenment and entertainment as one song on any Blackalicious album. These guys are here to teach positive nature and attitudes in life. Representing such a stance keeps Xcel and Gab’s minds in tune and humble in heart.
After “The Craft” was released in ’05, Xcel and Gab decided to work on solo projects.
Gab’s first solo album, released the same year as, “The Craft,” is “4th Dinmensional Rocketships Going Up.” This album features “Rat Race,” “Evolution” and “Real MCs.” These are songs that hold no barring on other types of hip-hop, proving that Gab has what it takes to be real emcee and true to himself as he melodically and verbally dishes up heaps of word play to his die-hard fans.
Next up, released July ’06, “Supreme Lyricism,” which is a limited edition mix tape, if you will, featuring 24 delicious tracks and a secret song to keep you Gabby-Savvy. Gab chose to independently release this mix tape via hip-hop stores, online markets and guerrilla marketing. Nothing smells true emcee as selling fresh albums out the back of your car trunk to local skater kids and college students making their way to parks and classrooms.
Gab features Xcel; of course, Lateef, Lyrics Born, Vursatyl, Jumbo of Lifesavas, Talib Kweli, NeadNotic, Mr. Lif and many more.
“I am into doing limited edition albums, pressing them up myself,” says Gab.
Recently returning from touring parts of Australia with DJ Shadow June ’07, Gab enjoys visiting and learning about other cultures.
“It’s always healthy to learn and travel. In general, people are afraid of what they don’t understand or people they don’t understand. Traveling really helped me to open up and not judge people. I have dealt with racism in different places. It always has taught me to not be judgmental,” according to Gab.
When Blackalicious first formed, groups like Rakim, Boogie Down Productions and A Tribe Called Quest were just coming out.
“The music was so colorful at that time. That is the era that influenced [Blackalicious] and got us doing what we do,” Gab reverberates.
Gab sees different stages in the development of hip-hop as a growth period, conceptualizing groups such as NWA in the early ‘90s as revolutionary in the scene.
“The shift went from how creative you can be to street credibility,” Gab states, who has much respect for gangsta-rap, “I just wish we could see a balance of sounds and different perspectives. There is room for everyone to tell their story.”
Loosing the “cultural aspect” of hip-hop, Gab now sees hip-hop in a state of concern.
“It’s all about marketing an image,” says Gab.
Gab takes time out in his own community of Oakland, CA to speak out publicly to youth, “Whenever I am asked to speak of do a benefit, I am making sure I am available. The older I get, it becomes important to be someone who gives. I try to do my best.”
Gab also is involved with having one of his ‘Gabby-licious’ songs featured on a skate movie called, “Roll Forever.”
“They approached me and wanted to see me in it,” says Gab.
Gab will be dropping yet another mix tape before the close of the year and then will reunite with Xcel to produce yet another classic Blackalicious album. Check out http://www.gifstribution.com to purchase Gab’s mix tape, T-shirts and receive tour date information.