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Gift of Gab is solid, but lacks beats

Kenyatta Storin | Thursday, September 16, 2004

There is no arguing that Gift of Gab is one of the best underground rappers of today. He and Chief Xcel, who form Blackalicious, have made two of the most creative and unique hip-hop albums in recent memory: “Nia” and “Blazing Arrow.” Much like other premier underground acts like Jurassic 5, Common and Talib Kweli, Blackalicious produces an alternative brand of hip hop that strays far from the path of popular rappers like 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg. No guns, no money, no violence here – t-his is intellectual hip-hop at its best.But Blackalicious is not only creative, but quite talented as well. Gift of Gab has an unbelievable flow, being able to rap as quickly as Twista while using the vocabulary of a Webster’s dictionary and expressing as much spirituality as a Notre Dame Rector. Chief Xcel is no slouch either, sporting some of the most unpredictable and sophisticated beats around, making him and Gift of Gab a perfect pairing. “4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up” is Gift of Gab’s first solo release, and although it is a solid effort, Chief Xcel is sorely missed. Production duties are instead split between Vitamin D and Jake One, and the two fail to fill even one of Chief Xcel’s shoes. Aside from some bright spots like the opening track, “The Ride of Your Life,” which has a surreal harp sample intertwined with a smooth bass line, many of the tracks have generic and static beats. Not only this, but the overall production lacks variety, making some of the songs blend together after a while. This is not to say that the production does not have its moments for some of the beats grow on you over time, but overall it lacks the punch and creativity of Chief Xcel’s work. On the other hand, Gift of Gab is as good as ever, once again showing why he is one of the best lyricists out there. Sometimes he is insightful, like on “Way of the Light” where he spouts, “Money just like everything else, it all dies / The self is lost, and it’s still can I get a dime sack? / To help me focus on wealth, not material wealth / Cause true wealth resides deep inside.” And like previous Blackalicious works, Gift of Gab shows he can still be quite imaginative too, like on “Stardust” where he flows, “Headed out to Mars with souls and minds that are more connected / build with elders how to conquer ignorance, the mighty predator.”Due to the mediocrity of the album’s production, in order to truly enjoy the album one must listen carefully to Gift of Gab’s lyrics. His rhymes are full of clever allusions and thought-provoking topics that often take several listens to catch because of his lightening quick flow. Unlike catchy radio-friendly songs like Usher’s “Yeah!” or 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” that are suited well for background music at parties and the like, “4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up” is a poor choice for a casual listen. It is like the difference between putting on “Kill Bill” or “The Matrix” in the background, versus “2001: Space Odyssey” or “Citizen Kane.” “4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up” is a very good hip-hop album, but when compared to Blackalicious, it almost sounds pedestrian. It lacks the wonderful chemistry between Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel that makes Blackalicious so unique. With the right producers, Gift of Gab is probably capable of creating a classic by himself, but it is hard to imagine a better producer for him than Chief Xcel. For the time being, Gift of Gab should stick with what works and make another classic Blackalicious album. Then the rocket ships will really fly.