****A2G (EP) (Quannum Projects, 1999)
****1/2Nia (Quannum Projects, 2000)
****Blazing Arrow (MCA, 2002)
Gift of Gab:
***1/2Fourth Dimensional Rocketships Going Up (Quannum Projects, 2004)

Xavier Mosley (Chief Xcel) and Tim Parker (Gift of Gab) got together as Blackalicious back in 1991. They came out of the Sacramento/Davis underground rap scene which released records as Solesides and Quannum Projects. Over the nine years until they released their first full length album, they cut a handful of singles and two EPs and contributed some of the best things on comps like Solesides Best Bumps and Quannum Connection. But while their basic schtick wasn't unusual for alt-rap -- Gab's torrent of gangsta-free words flooding Xcel's utility beats and turntablism -- they showed quite a knack for memorable hooks like, in the 7-cut A2G, the alphabet sequence of "A to G," the p-funky chorus in "Rock the Spot," or the "by any means necessary" refrain to "Making Progress."

By the time they assembled Nia (Swahili for "purpose") they had 45 songs to choose from; the biggest problem with the 19 that they chose (3 repeats from A2G) is that hooks and messages pile up so fast that it's hard to keep them straight. But "Ego Trip by Nikki Giovanni" (whose protagonist created the pyramids and the Nile, sent an ice age to Europe and burned out the Sahara, gave oil to the Arab world, and can fly) stands on its own, not least because Erinn Anova handles the vocal. Then there's the speech at the end of "Cliff Hanger," the "Blackalicious, we keep it fat, delicious" chorus on "Smithzonian Institute of Rhyme," the "un-huh"s that stomp home "Reanimation," the subliminal "drifting"s on the lullaby "Sleep."

Given that the market for underground rap is a good hundred times that for, say, underground jazz, major labels beckoned, and for better and worse, Blazing Arrow was the result. The deal gives them access to samples like the Harry Nilsson on "Blazing Arrow" and De La Soul on "Paragraph President," and the guest stars queue up, although they still hang with old friends like DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist. But in the end it's still much the same record: fast beats and scratches, lots of words, a few less hooks, but the refrain on "Sky Is Falling" (lifted from one of those B-boys -- Beethoven, I think) is awesome. Two lines sum them up nicely: "passion, the drive to press, to strive for best," but especially, "aural pleasure, y'all."

Parker's solo album sounds like a side project: long on words, the minimal music built on skinny little riffs with scarcely a change. Yet in the end it's the simple music that stays with you, while the rapid-fire words melt into the mix.


From a biography:

In 1987, Xavier Mosley (Chief Xcel) met Tim Parker (Gift of Gab) at Kennedy H.S. in Sacramento. Xcel went to college, where he hooked up with Lyrics Brown, DJ Shadow, Jazzbo, DJ Zen, who were starting label Solesides. In July 1991 Gab moved to Davis and came up with name Blackalicious. In Jan. 1993 first Solesides record with DJ Shadow and Lyrics Born. In 1994 Blackalicious recorded over twenty songs, delivering EP Melodica. EP was released on Mo Wax in Europe and Japan. In 1996 the Solesides crew moved to San Francisco, released Latryx album; company would later evolved into Quannum. Gift of Gab had alcohol problems, fought through that. Over three years Blackalicious recorded over 45 songs, from which NIA was chosen. ("Nia" means purpose in Swahili.)

  • Rolling Stone review (Neva Chonin): Nia -- Talent tends to come in clusters. Blackalicious are a case in point: Lyricist The Gift of Gab and DJ-producer Chief Xcel hail from the same tight Northern California Solesides crew that birthed DJ Shadow and Latyrx (and the Quannum Projects label). Like their compadres, Blackalicious have concocted a debut album -- which follows several underground singles and EPs -- celebrating old-school hip-hop while infusing it with inspired new twists. The rhyme patterns on Nia recall Eighties rap classics, but the break beats are broken up and fueled by whimsical samples, Xcel's turntablist-inspired scratching and new pan-African patterns. Just as in Public Enemy's heyday, cultural politics abound, whether it's Gab lambasting modern-rap-star ethics in the dry, drawling "Deception" or poet Nikki Giovanni reciting her resonant poem "Ego Trip" on a track of the same name. At times, this ethical bent can verge on sanctimony, but when the beat is moving, as it usually is on Nia, why quibble? Besides, the lectures ring true. As Gab states in "Shallow Days," "It's time for a new day." This longing for post-gangsta hip-hop has been expressed before but has seldom rocked so well. (RS 839) ***
  • Rolling Stone review (Pat Blashill): Blazing Arrow -- Bay-area hip-hop duo Blackalicious put the "granola" in G-funk. On their major-label debut, lyricist the Gift of Gab and DJ-producer Chief Xcel sling together an organic blend of almost baroquely convoluted yet very juicy grooves. There's a breezy, easy roll to the chorus of "4,000 Miles," wherein Gab and guest stars Lateef and Chali 2NA croon, "Music!" while their vocal butter is punctuated by a slo-mo burst of wah-wah. The tune epitomizes the lazy, lovely flow of Blazing Arrow, most of which is made all the more mellow by the gently bumping lines of bassist Harley White Jr. Even within a genre obsessed with its own history and history lessons, Arrow is erudite and ambitious. On "Paragraph President," Blackalicious sample De La Soul, then segue into a thundering beat interlude by DJ Shadow, as if to suggest that both the Daisy Age rappers and the trip-hop pioneer graduated from the same old school. It's not just a hip-hop-history rewrite -- Gab and Xcel also mean to suggest an alternate hip-hop future, in which master DJs will never fade behind thugged-out MCs, and conscious lyrics always weigh a ton. ****

Discography (from, painfully transcribed because they use fucking Flash for everything):


  • "Lyric Fathom" b/w "Swan Lake", SoleSides 002
  • Melodica (EP) (Domestic release), SoleSides 003
  • "Touch the Stars", Connected Compilation, 3-2-1
  • A2G (EP), 3-2-1/Quannum Projects
  • "One of a Kind" & "Jada's Vengeance", Quannum Spectrum, Quannum Projects
  • Nia (LP), Quannum Projects/Sub Verse
  • "Deception" b/w "Turmoil" & "Redemption", Quannum Projects
  • "Trouble", Quannum Projects/Mo' Wax
  • "If I May" b/w "May 1" & "Reanimation", Quannum Projects/Mo' Wax
  • "Calcutta Convention", on the Droppen the Bomb V2, Bomb Records (recorded in 1996)
  • "Soul in Flesh", on the Unbound Compilation, NGA
  • "Passion" b/w "Paragraph President", MCA/Quannum Projects
  • "Make You Feel That Way", MCA/Quannum Projects
  • Blazing Arrow (LP), MCA/Quannum Projects
Chief X-Cel:

  • "Fully Charged on Planet X", SoleSides 005
  • "Love Is Touching" remix (for John Tchicai), B&W Music
  • "Doing Everyday the Hard Way" on The Watts Prophets -- When the 90s' Came, London Records
  • "Bad News" & "Burning Hot in Cali on a Saturday Night", on Latryx -- The Album, SoleSides 008
  • "Golden Rule", The Maroons on Quanum-Spectrum, Quannum Projects
  • "Blue Flames" with Quannum MC's, on SoleSides Greatest Bumps, recorded September 1997, Quannum Projects
  • "Head Exercise" remix for the Lifesavas, Quannum Projects
  • "Multitudes" on Constant Elevation, Astralwerks
Gift of Gab:

  • "Rhyme Like a Nut!", "Count and Estimate" with DJ Shadow, on SoleSides Greatest Bumps (released 2000), Quannum Projects
  • "Mixed Feelings" (w/The Angel & Jacky Terrasson on The New Groove, Vol. 1), Blue Note Records
  • "Burning Hot in Cali on a Saturday Night," on Latryx -- The Album, SoleSides 008
  • "Cloud #9" on Latyrx -- The Muzapper's Mixes, SoleSides 009
  • "Blue Flames" with Quannum MC's, on SoleSides Greatest Bumps, released 2000, Quannum Projects
  • "Concentyration", "The Extravaganza" and "Bombonyall", on Quannum-Spectrum, Quannum Projects