Emerging from the creatively fertile soils of Northern California, The Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel fused together make Blackalicious, a two man combo whose relationship, that of the MC and DJ/Producer, reflects the core of the artform we have come to know as Hip Hop. In a cold and dark global market where music is thought of simply as a commodity to be mass produced, distributed, and sold, Blackalicious brings light through twelve years of fanatic b-boyism and soulful introspection.
The following is their story:
1987 - GENESIS
Bay Area native Xavier Mosley (Chief Xcel) is introduced to L.A. (Pacoima) native Tim Parker (Gift of Gab) at Kennedy High School in Sacramento. The two meet through a mutual friend and fellow rhymer named Homicide. Xcel recalls, "We were originally supposed to be this three man crew; it was Homicide, The Gift of Gab (who was then known as Tiny T), and me (then named IceSki) as the DJ. It was like a RUN DMC type thing with two MC's and one DJ, but Homicide left Kennedy and we never actually hooked up."
It was during 1987 that The Gift of Gab was gaining a reputation throughout Sacramento as the one of the fiercest battle MC's around, while at the same time Xcel was spinning records at local high school parties. Spring semester Parker and Mosley had an economics class together. Xcel recalls, "we'd sit in class for the entire period and just argue over hip hop. We'd debate stupid shit, like who was doper: Too Short or Ice T. Initially Gab thought I was arrogant and I wasn't really feeling him. We found common ground when "Top Billin" by Audio Two came out. I kept telling him about this dope song I heard on an Action Jack mix tape with this MC named Milk D. I played it for him in my walkman and he was open to it. That song actually sparked our first real down to earth and ego free conversation about hip hop. Not long thereafter, the egos were shed and common respect was formed."
LET'S DO THIS
The two stayed cordial acquaintances until January of 1988 when a phone call would play a profound role in shaping the futures of both men. Gab recalls, "I had another DJ at time named Maestro K, but he decided he wanted to do R&B instead of Hip Hop. So I was left without a DJ. I called X and was like 'Yo I need a DJ' he said, 'For how long?' and I said 'Forever' and it has been on since then". On that day, the entity that would later become BLACKALICIOUS was formed, but not without undergoing several name changes first. The group was originally known as GTI, an acronym for Gabby T (Parker), and Ice Ski (Mosley). The name then changed to The Elements of Sound, then to Atomic Legion and finally Blackalicious during the summer of 1991.
Reflecting on the early days, Xcel states, "At that time I didn't really have any equiptment, just two pioneer turntables and a numark mixer. We used to go over to this guy named Wendell's house to record. He had a four track, some keyboards, and some drum machines so I'd go over there and program the beats. Keith, Gab's old DJ, would play keyboards and Gab would write lyrics. We recorded like this until Gab graduated in June of 1989. That summer I got my first sampler and four track".
WINDS OF CHANGE
Summer of 1989 marked a difficult transition for the group. Upon graduation, The Gift of Gab moved out of his brothers house in Sacramento to live with his sister in Los Angeles. Due to the move, hooking up to create music became virtually impossible. Gab recalls, "X would hook up beats and play them for me over the phone. I would then write to what I heard and call him back with finished songs. This went on for about a year and a half. I think we must have done about fifteen songs like this".
One year later Xcel went off to college and the two continued to work over the telephone but to no avail. Gab continues, "After a while the phone thing just wasn't cutting it. We had to be able to work in person in order to really create. One day X called and said he could help me get into college up were he was in Davis. He had hooked up with Lyrics Born, DJ Shadow, Jazzbo, and DJ Zen up in Davis and they were talking about putting together a small label called SoleSides. He sent me a bus ticket and I was on my way".
After half a semester in school, Gab decided that music was his life focus, not school. In July of 1991, The Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel changed the group name to Blackalicious, a name which "signifies good music". The two immediatley went to work in Xcel's Apartment/Studio conveniently named "The Hut". Gab states, "It was a real feeling of freedom to finally be putting all this material down. By the time I got to Davis, the SoleSides Mission had been visualized. It had been decided that instead of making demo tapes and trying to get signed, we would put our out creations ourselves. I met Lyrics Born, DJ Shadow, DJ Zen, Jazzbo, and later Lateef the Truth Speaker. We all immediately clicked after building and realizing the talent that we all possessed both individually and collectively. I knew this was meant to be".
In January of 1993, after much hard work, the first SoleSides record was released. The record was a double "A" side that included DJ Shadow's "Entropy" on one side and Lyrics Born's(then named Asia Born) "Send Them" on the other. The Gift of Gab was featured on "Count and Estimate" and Chief Xcel was on "Back to Back Breaks" both were segments of Shadow's "Entropy". The record received much aclaim throughout highly respected Hip Hop circles.
1994 - CHAPTER THREE
In 1994 the next release on SoleSides would be from Blackalicious. During the time that Gab moved to Davis he and Xcel recorded over twenty songs. The difficulty was in deciding which songs to release. The group wanted give the best showing possible. As a result, they narrowed the mountain of recorded material down to seven songs and gave birth to thier first EP entitled "Melodica." This EP was a soulful excursion into the worlds of Chief Xcel and The Gift of Gab. The first single from the EP was "Swan Lake", an introspective song about peace of mind. Both the single and EP were seen by many as an underground classic selling a combined 25,000 units domestically. The album received much acclaim from the press, the strongest support however came from college radio and mix show stations across the US The record stayed in the Gavin hip hop chart's top ten for months and received "most added" the two weeks after it's release. San Francisco station KMEL's Wake Up Show & 10 O'clock Bomb played the record to no end, while L.A.'s 92.3 The Beat and Power 106 gave the record spins morning, noon, and night.
Around the same time, DJ Shadow began to do work on UK based label MoWax. His involvement with MoWax would later prove to be pivotal in the success of Blackalicious also. He later introduced Blackalicious to MoWax label owner, James Lavelle, who was so interested in the group and their sound that he licensed their EP in Europe and Japan. Xcel explains, "The record was actually released overseas before it came out domestically, the MoWax relationship gave us the opportunity to do what we had never done before.......TOUR". In Spring of 1995 the group set out on their first European tour. The group did 27 cities throughout England, Ireland, Scotland, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark receiving praise from press outlets throughout Europe. Touring overseas gave them the ability to see the impact their music was having across the globe. It also gave them a chance to see the effect that their live performances were having on people. Gab states,"The biggest high was having hundreds people who didn't speak English recite the lyrics to 'Swan Lake' word for word".
NIA AND THE QUEST FOR PURPOSE
Now it is November of 1996. In addition to DJ Shadow's and Lyrics Born's 12 inch records, SoleSides Records has now had five more releases including what would later be a highly acclaimed full length album by a group named Latyrx consisting of Lateef and Lyrics Born. The entire SoleSides crew had now relocated from the Davis and Sacramento areas to various parts of the San Francisco Bay Area. Having achieved everything they originally set out to do, SoleSides would later transform itself into a new entity called Quannum. Mosley and Parker decide it is now time to shift gears from touring behind Melodica to focusing on new material; time to record another album. Little did they know, they would be embarking upon a three year recording process.
Three years of trials, tribulations, blood, sweat, tears, and changes.
During this time Gab was fighting a battle with alcoholism, a battle that would lead to the loss of his apartment and cause him to couch surf for a year and a half while writing and recording the album. Simultaneously, Xcel was frustrated because he was having the most prolific creative burst of his career but his partner was struggling to get his life in order. Xcel states, "It hurt to see him go through so much. When we would work in studio, he would be focused and on point, but when he left the studio he would be going through his own personal hell. That's why I have so much respect for Gab, because it takes an incredible soul to endure what he has endured and triumph". Gab reflects, "It was a frustrating period, the hardest in my life, but when I look back on all the struggle, it kind of served as an inspiration for a lot of material on 'NIA'. You have to know what it is to struggle to really have inner peace."
Through fighting and winning this battle, The Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel have been able to achieve exactly what they intended to do; make a record that will be considered timeless. In this three year process, over forty-five songs have been recorded. Of the more than forty-five songs recorded, "NIA" is composed of the 17 most potent. Contributions from Quannum family members Lateef and Lyrics Born of Latyrx, Erinn Anova, Joyo Velarde and DJ Shadow add even more fuel to the fire of "NIA", which means purpose in Swahili, and demonstrates the duo at their best. Whether it be the hardcore b-boyisms contained in "A to G", "Clockwork", and "Heat", the heartfelt introspection of "If I May" and "As the World Turns", the thorough storytelling of "Deception", "Cliff Hanger", and "Shallow Days", or the witty lyrical prowess of "Beyonder", "Do This My Way", and "Smythzonians"; what the listener is given is a multidimensional view into the lives of these two men.
The group recently completed a successful twenty city tour of the United States with Quannum stable mates Latyrx and DJ Shadow. In addition to "NIA," their full length LP, they have also completed a seven song EP titled "A2G" which includes an amazing composition by Cut Chemist of Jurassic 5 entitled "Alphabet Aerobics." Blackalicious also recently made contributions to the upcoming Quannum compilation entitled "Quannum Spectrum." The record includes songs with El P of Company Flow, Hieroglyphics, Jurassic 5, the legendary Divine Styler as well as all the artists and groups associated with Quannum Projects. Look for Blackalicious on tour throughout 1999 and 2000.