I remember hearing the first Blackalicious album, Nia (1999), circa 2001, when my then boyfriend introduced me to the Californian hip hop duo. I was instantly hooked by the beautiful, dreamlike quality of the music produced by Chief Xcel and in awe of the ridiculous rapping skills of Gift of Gab. Needless to say, I then bought the compilation album, Solesides Greatest Bumps (2000), their next album, Blazing Arrow (2002) and the next, The Craft (2005) and then all of a sudden, they stopped releasing anything…
So they kept us waiting 10 whole years, but have finally made a new album, Imani (Vol. 1) (which translates as ‘faith’ in Swahili), due out in September, with two further volumes in the pipeline. Not only that, they came to see us in Brighton and warmed up The Haunt on a chilly Thursday night in February. I got there early expecting to have to wait around for them to appear, but DJ Chief Xcel promptly took up his position behind the decks and started spinning tunes ‘on the wheels’. He was closely followed by Lifesavas’ MC Jumbo, who warmed up the crowd nicely and MC Vursatyl, thus named because the guy can rap AND sing. Last, but by no means least, Gift of Gab came and devastated the mic with his tongue-twisting, multisyllabic, complex rhymes.
They played a nice mix of old classics; Gift of Gab effortlessly spitting crowd pleasers Alphabet Aerobics and Chemical Calisthenics, and getting the crowd participating to the ‘laaa dee da da da dee da’ of Deception. MC Vursatyl showed off his rich vocal on Blazing Arrow and First In Flight and all three played one side of the audience off the other before a rendition of one of my favourites, Make You Feel That Way. I found myself taking a trip down memory lane, miming along to Paragraph President and Rhythm Sticks, which still sound as fresh as they did a decade ago.
The few tunes they performed from the forthcoming album sounded very promising, particularly the clever wordplay that exemplifies their inimitable style on Blacka and the uplifting Twist of Time that they played for an encore. They closed the set by taking a selfie with the audience and inviting us all to come and hang out with them at the merch stand at the front. Sure enough, they sauntered through the crowd minutes later, shaking hands and chatting amiably.
When the lights came up, I bumped into the aforementioned ex-boyfriend and reminisced about the days of Blackalicious all those years ago. I turned back to the stage to see MC Jumbo holding a birthday cake and singing the birthday song for a guy in the audience. On my way out I stopped to have a chat with MC Vursatyl and Chief Xcel, who actually took the time to speak to me about their new album and their next tour in the ‘Fall’, and obligingly pose for a photo. In other words, they are lovely, genuine blokes, who appreciate their fans and just happen to have ‘skills, skills, skills’.