Blackalicious's first album in 10 years (part 1 in a trilogy) is an unflinching look at family dynamics. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the genre of dad-rap.
In 2005, people were still buzzing about a speech that a soon-to-be Illinois senator gave to the Democratic National Convention. It was electrifying enough to have some speculating that this energizing figure could be a serious contender in the 2016 presidential race. That same year, Kanye West was making headlines... by releasing one of the most acclaimed albums of that decade with Late Registration. And finally, that same year, the United States experienced the horrific environmental and societal ravages wrought by Hurricane Katrina.
To state the obvious, a lot changes during a decade. Not only from a political standpoint, but from personal levels as well. Those who turned eight in 2005 are now getting ready to take their first finals in college.
Blackalicious has always written about issues both political and personal. In 2005, Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel released their last "official" work under Blackalicious with The Craft. It was an accomplished, if slightly uneven follow-up to 2002's classic Blazing Arrow. Since then, Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel have pursued solo careers and other projects, but routinely toured as Blackalicious. Earlier this decade, Gift of Gab was diagnosed with kidney disease, which has put him on dialysis.
Like Portishead, and to some extent, Sleater-Kinney, Blackalicious never officially broke up. As a result, their first album since their extended hiatus, Imani is the sound of the two picking up exactly where they left off. Not shrinking from ambition, Imani is the first album in a planned trilogy, which would exactly double Blackalicious' full-length album output once the trilogy is completed.
Imani certainly doesn't feel like a "part 1" of anything. Instead, it has the feel of an ambitious single-statement, kicking off with a heavy metal by way of Prince blast of "Blacka". On "The Sun," a bright, early '80s-style piano riff serves as a backdrop to Gift of Gab's bracing, spiritual prose.
Though much of Imani is rooted in old-school style deliveries and beats, "That Night's" sparse beat has a decidedly futuristic bent to it. It's also one of the loosest songs on Imani as Gift of Gab lays out the simple joys of an all-night party in New Orleans. It's a party track on a serious album, but the breeziness and exhilaration on display easily elevate "That Night" from falling into the "lone fun song on a deadly serious album" cliche.
At almost an hour, Imani has some mid-album tracks that drag, namely "Inspired By" and "I Like the Way You Talk". However, three fantastic tracks close out Imani, and expertly sum up the album's themes. In "Loves Gonna Save The Day", Gift of Gab lays out the complexities of family dynamics, as some members are thriving in nursing and military careers while others are trying to rebuild their lives, all the while, the narrator tries to figure out his own role in the family as he's still trying to figure out his own path.
Like their audience, Blackalicious are now bidding farewell to their '30s and facing their '40s. At this age, you can relieve past victories, and suffer minimal consequences. However, Imani boldly announces a new chapter for Blackalicious. Family and mortality are only going to get more complex as one gets older. However, Blackalicious prove you can still hit your stride if you have the ambition.