The NEXT level of hip-hop (5 stars)
, January 2, 2009
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The next level you ask? Gift of Gab's impenetrably ill lyricism over Chief Xcel's beautifully lush production is something that I would call legendary, unique, and dare I say - untouchable. Gift of Gab definitely possesses a gift that may have you questioning the talents of your favorite emcee. He has endless capabilities as far as his impressive jaw gymnastics are concerned. His rhymes are jam-packed with metaphors, varying tones and rhythms, impeccable precision, and of course lightning quick speed. Like label-mate Lyrics Born, Gift of Gab redefines breath control. But Gift of Gab is quite a bit faster, leaving the listener in awe, and confused as to wear he actually fits a breath in his repertoire. In another respect, he doesn't drop sickly fast rhymes the whole time (which would actually get old). He experiments with his flow like a DJ experiments with their record collection.
This is Blackalicious' major-label debut, released on MCA. And if it sound more expensive than "Nia" (2000), there's certainly good reason for it. The title track sweeps the listener into tranquillity with the gorgeous sampling of "Me And My Arrow" by H. Nilsson. "First in Flight" shines with Gil Scott-Heron as a guest vocalist. It also incorporates elements that would prove to be more prominent in there later works (2005's "The Craft") - live instrumentation. The track also showcases some of Gift of Gabs most impressive skills on the mic. The streak keeps going with "4000 miles" featuring Chali 2NA (of Jurassic 5) and Lateef (of Latyrx) and some of Chief Xcel's dopest production. The guests have arguably never sound better than they do hear. The only thing that wears on me slightly is the repetitive chorus ("Muusiic"). The ?uestlove produced "Nowhere Fast" remains a favorite. Gift's personal lyrics and additional soothing vocals by Miho Hatori makes it a standout. "Paragraph President" also has a sweet driving beat to it, with DJ Shadow helping out a bit. "It's Going Down" is especially funky and soulful, mostly due to the sultry and sexy lyrics brought forth by Keke Wyatt. "Brain Washers" featuring Ben Harper came out a lot better than I expected. My favorite track has got to be the most impressive on the album - "Chemical Calisthenics" featuring Cut Chemist. The production is sick, fast and dead on just like Gift of Gab's incredibly fast, sharp and precise flows. Other appearances are made by Rakaa & Babu of Dilated Peoples ("Passion"), Jaguar Wright ("Aural Pleasure") and Saul Williams & the very tight Lyrics Born ("Release part 1,2 & 3").
Overall, this album is as close to perfect as you will hear from the thriving underground hip-hop scene. Although I must admit, many of these songs border on R&B, and several include choruses (a few of which are somewhat repetitive). Those are usually two things I try to avoid when considering underground hip-hop. But after listening to this album many, many times, I can honestly say there is nothing bad about those songs. They are executed beautifully, and for it's style and effect, it exceeds expectations and succeeds admirably. It sounds full of life, and the large budget doesn't hurt the albums overall effect or message. If you don't like R&B at all, there will be several tracks that won't impress you, or may get under your skin. It's a formula that very few have been able to execute properly, and Blackalicious makes it seem like child's play. It's a record that amazes and reveals more beauty with each and every spin. Definitely a keeper.