Eight years have passed since California hip hop duo Blackalicious released an album.
For perspective: when they put out The Craft, their fourth full length, back in 2005, George W. Bush was still the American president, no one fretted over Instagram followers and flip phones were still a legitimate way to communicate.
In other words, a lot has happened. But for rapper Gift of Gab (a.k.a. Tim Parker) and DJ/producer Chief Xcel (Xavier Mosley) inspiration for their pioneering brand of conscious hip hop has remained the same.
"Our music has always been honest," Gab says over the phone days before heading to B.C. for a small string of concerts. "We've always talked about where we're at in life and how we see the world and how we would like to see the world. Just observation. People, places and things." He also reveals that at last the pair is heading into the studio to work on a new record, tentatively slated for a summer release. They've finished 20 songs, plan to work on another 20 then narrow it down to a 16-song tracklist. There are a few working titles, but Gab is remaining tight-lipped.
"We've still been working, just spreading out doing other things," he says, referring to his solo projects and Xcel's work as a producer. "We've always been Blackalicious. It's just taken (time) to come back to the foundation."
That foundation dates back to the late 80s when the pair first met in high school. Reuniting years later around 1992 in Davis, California, where Xcel was a student at the University of California they began to work on music. In 1994, they released their debut EP Melodica, which they re-released last summer — and made available digitally for the first time — to celebrate 20 years making music together.
"We just wanted to re-introduce some new fans to what we did 20 years ago," Gab says. "That was the beginning of the movement, so to speak... It's a blessing that we can still tour and put music out and people still come to our shows and we still have a strong fanbase and we're still passionate about it."
They've also continued to notice new, young faces in the crowds at shows throughout the years. "People come up to us and say, 'My big brother got me into you when I was eight," Gab says.
At the forefront of positive, alternative hip hop in the '90s, he adds that it's been both strange and fulfilling to see their influence on acts that have come since. "We were students of Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul," he says. "In that era we were students — we're students of it all even now — but in the era we came from, I think I've always wanted to be an MC who had something to say. That reflects who I am as a person. Not to say I'm a perfect person or soul because I don't think anybody is, but I think our music has always reflected that we see the world a certain way and we want to contribute."
His advice to newcomers in the industry after two decades of experience? "I would say believe in what you do," he adds. "Get around other people who have the same mind (frame) as you and work hard. If you're an artist, create. Don't say you're an artist, be an artist."
Although social media and interacting directly with fans has become a bigger part of releasing records since their last time around, the need to tour relentlessly has not changed. To that end, the pair will hit up a few select cities in B.C. — including Whistler — and California before hunkering down in an Oakland studio to work on the record. Look forward to a sample of new tracks at the gigs, Gab says.
"We say it at every show, 'New Blackalicious coming this summer,'" he says. "People are ready. I'm ready."
The pair have performed in Whistler before and left with some distinct memories. Gab elaborates: "What I remember about Whistler is great people, but very high altitude and a lot of snow."
Tickets for the Feb. 2 show at GLC are $15 in advance at clubzone.com/ciaconcerts or $20 at the door.
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