Artist: BlackaliciousTitle: The CraftRating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Kevin Polowy
With 2002s exceptional Blazing Arrow, Blackalicious graduated from reliable left-coast ambassadors to melodic Hip-Hop royalty. Naturally, expectations the weight of an offensive line await their follow-up. And while it doesnt quite stack up, The Craft (Anti/Epitaph) wont leave anyone crying theyve been Fauriza Balkd.
Like all great artists, Chief Xcel and The Gift of Gab clearly aspire to make music outside of the boombox, to evolve their styles on some Darwinian sh*t. The Craft aint a science project, but it includes their most experimental work to date. And in expanding their sonic range, they sacrifice the constancy of vibes and stuff that enveloped Blazing Arrow.
The most obvious departure from that mode comes with the eventual single Powers, which has already drawn discerning comparisons to that little Andre 3000 ditty Hey Ya, mostly because Gab comes with the croon. And while he does prove his pipes steely over dainty X-cel drumwork, the campy hook is unlikely to wet panties the way Andre can with such ease, but well see. We all knew this was coming, but Gab kills it on the drum n bass tip with The Fall and Rise of Elliot Brown that is until the track unexpectedly transforms into more serene meditations.
Once again the supremely underrated Lateef turns up on the crown jewel Side to Side, murdering the track alongside Gab and Quannums most impressive new signee, Pigeon John. Each of the trio shines in rhymes about dancefloor misadventures over a theatrical but simple, bouncy piano-piloted production, resulting in one for the anthology.
Those who share this writers awe for Gabs Herculean lyrical prowess wont find much to gripe about. Though hes told us he plans to follow up Alphabet Aerobics and Chemical Calisthenics with an algebra anthem, he doesnt get into full work-out mode on The Craft, though he does get his alliteration on within Rhythm Sticks, spelling out the group that he reps with brisk rhymery. The Paragraph President here is My Pen and Pad, and though its too fleeting, Gabs non-dependence on oxygen is on full display. Though he can play the other-emcees-arent-sh*t game (Emcees are puppets/ Me, Im Jim Henson), his writs more often than not aim to transcend the physical, often taking aim at capitalism, the California prison system, and hypocrites en masse (those who Talk all about peace and love and God/ But then why are we at war/ Killin people in Iraq).
The boldness youve come to expect from Gab and X-Cel (whose beat wattage tends most to that Passion style) is unrelenting, even if the hit-miss quota has slightly waned. But even a mere solid Blackalicious outing clowns 75% of a respectable playlist.