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Blackalicious sounds off

Joel Stonington
Blackalicious takes the stage tonight at Aspen's Belly Up.
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Few groups have forged a solid reputation on a single EP, but Blackalicious did exactly that with 1994’s “Melodica.” And they never looked back.With a wide range of styles, from danceable tunes to head-nodding slow songs to complicated melodies, Blackalicious is still spinning its version of hip-hop all around the country. And the group is coming back to Aspen tonight for a gig at the Belly Up.San Francisco Bay Area native Chief Xcel (Xavier Mosley) and Los Angeleno Gift of Gab (Tim Parker) met at Kennedy High School in Sacramento 1987. They immediately started arguing about hip-hop, finding very little common ground. That is, until “Top Billin” by Audio Two came out, and suddenly they both had a favorite song. As Gab put it, “We both agreed it was the dopest thing we had ever heard.”

Gab was already gaining a reputation in the area as a serious battle MC – trying to outdo other MCs with better rhymes. But in early 1988, Gab’s DJ decided give up hip-hop. So Gab gave Chief Xcel a call. “I called X up and said I wanted a DJ,” Gift of Gab said by phone from his home in Oakland, Calif. “He said, ‘When?’ and I said, ‘Forever.’ It was just natural. He thought I just meant a show. I said, ‘I actually need a DJ.’ It’s been a long journey.”In college, at the University of California, Davis, the duo met up with Latyrx (Lateef and Lyrics Born) and DJ Shadow, forming Solesides. They busted out a bunch of singles and soon moved to Oakland, where they formed the record label collective, Quannum. “We have a whole bunch of other groups,” said Gift of Gab. Two of Quannum’s artists are joining Blackalicious on their latest tour, including Lifesavas from Portland, Ore., and Pigeon John from Los Angeles (see related story).”It’s been pretty hectic. We’ve been on the road for two months,” Gab said.

But the group still loves getting up onstage and seeing the crowd’s excitement.”That’s one of the greatest highs in the world,” he said. “It’s just a rush when you’re in the zone and the crowd is filling you,” he said. “It’s one of the greatest highs on the world.” And the touring has its benefits. “We’re definitely in the place where we’ve built a loyal fan base, and that fan base continues to grow,” Gab said.That fan base is one of the most important things for an independent musician, according to Gift of Gab.

“The music is changing,” he commented. “The whole way the music business is running is undergoing a transformation. The playing field is a lot more even now. If you have a fan base you don’t have to get a big deal with a big record label. That’s the blessing with Blackalicious.”And while the business side of music interests him, it’s really about the songwriting for Gift of Gab. He considers himself a songwriter first and foremost. He sits down every day to write, or brings a pen along with him when he’s walking down the street in case an idea strikes. “You can’t think when you’re writing a song,” he said. “I feel it more than I think it. I’m always trying to grow as an artist, make records that we haven’t made. At the end of the day we just want to leave a legacy of good music.Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com


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