Blackalicious The Craft

[Anti; 2005]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: underground hip-hop
Others: Common, Lyrics Born, Mos Def, The Roots

Prior to 2002's stellar Blazing Arrow, Blackalicious were unfortunately typecast into a categorical ennui that could have been their ultimate demise altogether. Founded on the roots and branches of Quannum Projects' existence, Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel blended a plethora of funk, jazz, and old school elements that complemented the entire Quannum collective's visionary sound and structure. Unfortunately, Quannum succumbed to the same faith as many other conjoined efforts by hip-hop posses (ah hum... Definitive Jux), resulting in staleness and redundancy instead of its futuristic promise. Most of the output by other collaborators failed to raise an eyebrow, disappointing a hip-hop nation salivating to be exposed to the best of hip-hop's underground. Opportunely, Blackalicious signed to the majors shortly after and did something extraordinary: they released their flawless and still-banging joint Blazing Arrow, further spreading the gap between mundane and stylistic, tiresome and elegant, exasperating and brilliant.
2005 sees Gab and Xcel continuing to spread and enlarge the gap from past projects on their newest and most accomplished album to date, the independent The Craft. Those of you who thought Gift of Gab exemplified cadenced genius with his unique rhyming delivery and quick-thinking wit on previous releases will be stunned by his depth and growth since Blazing Arrow. Summoning the lyrical prowess of many of hip-hop's most versatile emcees and molding a style that is uniquely his own, Gab continues with his astonishing lyrical technique, comfortable between the KRS-One-like teaching on "Rhythm Sticks" and the adrenaline rush of "My Pen and Pad." Although perhaps premature, Gab receives merit points for his Beck-like singing, not rhyming, on the eccentric "Powers," a track that, on any other album, wouldn't work, but gives The Craft an exclusive position of its own, further deepening its vibrant roots.

Not all accolades are necessarily Gift of Gab's though, as Xcel continues to push the envelope and 'crafts' some of hip-hop's most blended and distinctive sounds to date. Mixing jazz, disco, rock 'n' roll, blues, R&B, and hip-hop into a cohesive and comprehensible concoction is quite impressive. Although each song progressively conjures a different style and genre, Xcel pastes them together with continuous grace and elegance. Brilliant sample manipulations complement the songs and their lyrical objectives without overshadowing the beats. Overall, The Craft exemplifies beautifully hip-hop's most ancient order of emcee and DJ, creating a perfect bond between two of the genre's most talented artists.

Is it possible that Gab and Xcel could have improved and surpassed Blazing Arrow's success? The Craft simply says yes.

1. World of Vibrations (feat. Ledisi)
2. Supreme People
3. Rhythm Sticks
4. Powers (feat. Ledisi & Kween)
5. Your Move (feat. Lifesavas)
6. Lotus Flower (feat. George Clinton)
7. My Pen And Pad
8. Side To Side (feat. Lateef & Pigeon John)
9. Automatique (feat. Floetry)
10. The Fall and Rise of Elliot Brown (feat. Larry Saunders & Ledisi
11. Black Diamonds And Pearls
12. Give It To You
13. Egosonic Wardrums (feat. P.E.A.C.E.)
14. The Craft