field report no.032217

SUBJECT: Blackalicious

I have a special place in my heart for bands that seem to persevere in the face of indifference and obscurity. Though never outpacing their closest peers, Jurassic 5, Blackalicious has steadily held their course and outlasted and outdistanced them. It must be tiring, and this night, it showed a little—as Blackalicious looked they'd just run a marathon. Even the hype man, Lateef the Truth Speaker had a hard time making his "Yes Yes Y'all's" too convincing. 

This is not to diminish the immense craft and skill on display. Gift of Gab has an unrivaled, old-school hip hop delivery. Even that seems unfair to say, though, as it's less old school, and more 'what-old-school-might-have-grown-into-in-a-parallel-universe' kind of way. He's built upon a legacy of rapping that reaches to the earliest days of hip hop but refined it. He's a master of what I call rhythmic phonetics—marked by a careful attention to how words break down syllabically, and using them to keep a lively interaction with the beat. Nothing in his flow is four-square or hemmed in by the meter, but still always making beat more dynamic and elastic.

Unfortunately, I have to give a special mention to the opening act, which was so annoying it bordered on offensive. If you can imagine stumbling into a bar to find it's live-band karaoke night, and a handful of frat boys are hogging the stage, doing ill-advised, poorly practiced takes on hip hop classics, you get the general idea.

NOTES: Blackalicious; FTO x King Garbage
PRESENT: AMS; Angela F; Angela F.(2); Eric H.

Imani vol.1, instrumentals

Blackalicious, 2015

While I've a stack of personal reasons why hip hop instrumentals have so much appeal for me, Blackalicious' Imani Instrumentals play less as hip hop and more like as one of the best downtempo records I've heard in ages. These tracks are so tightly constructed, they don't feel at all like an audio collage and nearly feel more like an actual band. Downtempo can be easy to malign—I've often called it restraunica: electronic music designed to sound hip enough, but to ultimately be ignored. The (retro) hip hop origins of Imani lend it just enough sharp snap and deep thump to keep it from simply receding into the head-nodding background.