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Blackalicious

Nia

(Quannum Projects)

“Dollar bill done drive the whole world crazy.”


I am not the first music critic to decry the current state of hip-hop; the hyper-materialism, the exploitative sexuality, and the garish egotism. During the 1980s and early ‘90s, hip-hop retained some hopeful elements: conscious lyrics; interesting, technologically innovative DJing and production; and a pervasive flirtation with live instruments. Since then, hip-hop has conquered (or has it been conquered by?) the pop music business. The explosion in sales has been fueled by affluent white, middle-class dollars and a corporate music structure ready to again exploit African American culture for profit. We’ve seen it with the blues, with jazz, soul, R&B, and early rock. Same thing here. As a result, fly-by-night sell-outs and posers abound. The Dollar Ethos crowds out the Creative Ethos; money over music. Mediocrity is the order of the day. The conscious side of hip-hop is diluted in an all-consuming commodity-driven market. It is enough to drive even the most dedicated listener to new musical vistas.


“It’s time for a new day, an era in rap, conscious-style.”


And then along comes Blackalicious’s first full-length CD, Nia, which renews your faith in the power and potential of hip-hop. Lyricist Gift of Gab and DJ/Producer Xcel have put together an eclectic CD with positive, intelligent lyrics and funky, creative, old school beats. For instance, “Smithzonian Institute of Rhyme” is built around a field chant; DJ Shadow tweaks the gothic comic-book adventure story, “Cliff Hanger”; and Nikki Giovani recites her poem, “Ego Trip,” to drum and bass. Various other hooks and sounds subtly decorate the record. The duo’s lyrical wit and black nationalist orientation (what I call Afrocentric psychedelia) are reminiscent of George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic and more distantly of Sun Ra. More current, their sound also brings to mind Zap Mama and Digable Planets. Politically, Blackalicious is most critical of hip-hop artists themselves and seem to be making a signal shot for renewal. Whether a renaissance is upon us remains to be seen, but a few more devotees to the new conscious-style would be nice. In the mean time, I’ll be spinning Nia for nourishment.

Related Articles
15 Nov 2005
Nearly 20 years later, Chief Xcel and Gift of Gab continue to spark the fire.
3 Oct 2005
The album takes the veteran hip-hop duo's penchant for verbose musings and adds a healthy serving of funk, soul, and late '60s rock to produce an album that aligns with this year's best.
By Brendan Kredell
13 Aug 2002
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