West coast hip-hop sages find inspiration on the road
Who: Blackalicious, with Jeff Spec & Ishkan, Mat the Alien, Rosco and R3
When: Tuesday, Sept. 9, 9 p.m.
Tickets:$27 in advance, $30 at the door.
They met in high school, honed their skills in college, and more than a decade later, the basis of southern California hip-hop crew Blackalicious, Chief X-Cel and MC Gift of Gab are still at it.
The duo carved out a name for themselves in the 90s as members of the Solesides (later to become the Quannum) hip-hop collective which included fellow groundbreaking west coast artists DJ Shadow and Latryx artists Lateef and Lyrics Born. Their various efforts earned them industry respect and a reputation for insightful lyrics that go beyond booty-shaking and bling-bling woven into innovative, dance-worthy production.
The fourth Blackalicious album, 2002s Blazing Arrow, their first major label debut, attracted a dream team of collaborators from the Roots ?uestlove, to ex-Rage Against the Machine frontman Zach de la Rocha. More than a year since its release, Arrow continues to make waves with its intelligent rhymes, lush grooves and intense verbal spars.
But Arrows success hasnt sent Blackalicious into hiding in the studio. Rather, the crew has embarked on an ambitious touring schedule. We caught up with Gift of Gab as he chilled between the end of the crews European tour and the start of another trip up towards these parts. Jet lag wasnt enough to keep a good MC down, especially one as insightful as Gift of Gab, who took the time to tell us about arrow symbolism, mainstream hip-hop, and meeting a childhood idol.
Pique:Throughout your last album, Blazing Arrow, you continually reference the title. Can you explain the significance?
Gift of Gab:The blazing arrow represents fate and conviction to be able to walk whatever path it is you walk in life, to fulfil whatever purpose it is you feel you are trying to fulfil in life. Thats all the blazing arrow represents to us fate.
Pique:On the album you have an amazing list of collaborators. From that group are there any particular standout collaboration experiences?
Gift of Gab:A standout for me would be Gil Scott-Heron (vocals on the track First in Flight ) who is somebody my older relatives listened to, and I grew up on. To me that was surreal, to be in the same studio as Gil Scott-Heron. Everybody else, from ?uestlove, to Chali 2Na, to Ben Harper, everybody else was people wed met through our travels, where wed be like, yo, weve gotta hook up and do something! Blazing Arrow gave us the opportunity to make that a reality.
Pique:With all those collaborators when you go on the road does your sound change?
Gift of Gab:When we go on the road its usually myself, Chief X-Cel, Lateef comes with us a lot of the time as a second MC, as well as two back up singers. With us, the live show is just as important as the record. We put a lot of thought into it, do a lot of different things with the singers harmony-wise. The whole thing with the live show, what were trying to do, is give the audience an experience instead of just getting up and doing songs.
Pique:Youve just gotten back from touring Europe. Are European hip-hop audiences different than audiences in the States and Canada?
Gift of Gab:Thats the thing about music I find its a universal thing. I think that if you put out a certain energy, youre going to get a certain energy back. And whether were in New York, whether were in Whistler, whether were in L.A., whether were in London, or Scotland, or Ireland, when we put out the energy, we get energy back from the crowd. Music is one of those things that draws everybody together. It transcends peoples differences, whether it be racial, whether it be age, or whatever. Whether it be even geographic. Its different people but its the same energy.
Pique:Is it that energy that keeps you touring?
Gift of Gab:Yeah, its a love and a passion. Definitely. Were travellers. We like to create and do shows and see what we can invent and where we can take it. The passion to grow and do that is keeping us driven.
Pique:Are you inspired by travelling? Are your lyrics inspired by travelling?
Gift of Gab:Definitely. I think that travelling is some of the best growing you can do personally because you get out and you get exposed to other cultures and other ideas. Travelling is definitely inspirational.
Pique:The artists from the Quannum group, people like yourselves and DJ Shadow, are considered very progressive. Where is the progression of hip-hop heading?
Gift of Gab:Wow, thats a good question. I think theres always going to be a mainstream and theres always going to be an underground. For me its about good music, whether you sell 10,000 copies or you sell a million copies. Some of my favourite artists right now are multi-platinum-selling mainstream artists. Eminem, Jay-Z and Nas are three of my favourite lyricists. Just because they sell millions of records doesnt take away from their credibility as artists. I would like to see more of a balance. Right now, record companies are in control of the mainstream. The unfortunate thing is they dont really live the culture. The art doesnt mean the same thing to them as it does to the people who really live it. So who knows where its gonna go. I think theres going to be a lot more progressive underground movements. Its already happened where artists are taking their careers into their own hands, but youre gonna see a lot more incredible music coming out of the independent circuit as well.
Pique:So whos in your CD player right now?
Gift of Gab:Little Brother, theyre from North Carolina. The name of the album is called the Listening , its some of the best hip-hop out right now. Also, the Lifesavas, theyre down with our crew. Ive got a little Bob Marley, Ive got the Brand Nubians, and thats about it right now.
Catch Gift of Gab and the rest of the Blackalicious crew this Tuesday at Garfinkels with Jeff Spec & Ishkan of Vancouver hip-hop collective the City Planners. Also playing will be local DJs Rosco, R3 and Mat the Alien.