BLACKALICIOUS at the BamBoo (312 Queen West), Sunday (April 28), 8 pm. $15. 416-760-3332. www.ramosent.com Rating: NNNNN
A long list of special guests on a hiphop record is usually an accurate indicator of a career stall. But that's definitely not the case with Cali crew Blackalicious. The audience for Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel's funky-intelligent approach to rocking houses has grown exponentially since they busted out of the University of California at Davis a decade back with Solesides members DJ Shadow and Latryx.
Yet while the six-digit sales figures for their fabulous last album, Nia (Quannum), were an impressive commercial breakthrough worth celebrating, they're now signed to MCA/Universal, where shifting 100,000 units is considered a flop.
It's understandable that for their major debut, Blazing Arrow (out Tuesday), Blackalicious felt the need to take out some celeb insurance, so they brought in Gil Scott-Heron, Saul Williams, Ben Harper, Jaguar Wright, Cibo Matto's Miho Hatori, Jurassic 5's Chali 2na and Cut Chemist, the Roots' ?uestlove, DJ Hi-Tek and many others.
A quick flip through fifth Beastie Mario Caldatto Jr.'s Rolodex provided a helpful hookup with Money Mark Nishita and the big coup, former Rage Against the Machine frontman Zach de la Rocha, who joins Williams on Blazing Arrow's centrepiece, the three-part soul suite Release.
"It's a blessing to work with all the talented people on the album," says Tim "Gift of Gab" Parker from an airport in Houston. "Zach came by Mario C's crib, we built for a minute and then he put down his part."
For someone who goes around calling himself Gift of Gab, it's an awfully terse response. Especially considering it was just last year when we shot the shit for a lengthy period about underground hiphop and Oakland record shops.
It's almost as if Blackalicious went through interview school to learn major-label-artist double-talk skills in cliché spewing and soundbite management.
When Gift of Gab is asked about the progress they've made in the year-long recording process to get from Nia to the What's Going On-sized scope of Blazing Arrow, he says obliquely, "Nia was about purpose, whereas Blazing Arrow deals with faith -- having the conviction to make that purpose manifest itself." Uh-huh.
He has a vague response ready for every question that comes his way, rhyming off, "We've not only matured as artists but as people," and "We're trying to make music for everybody -- young and old."
And when the sellout question arises, he reverts to the ever-reliable "We just signed to a major label to reach more people."
If the interview lasted any longer than 10 minutes, I'm sure he would've hit the "taking it to the next level" and "trying to keep it real" buttons.
Anticipating queries regarding the fate of the Quannum label they co-own now that Universal has Blackalicious locked up tight, Gift of Gab fires back, "Quannum is stronger than ever." Right, firstname.lastname@example.org