Blackalicious – Nia

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Album Review by Neil Ryan

Blackalicious are a North California hip-hop duo and even though they have been together on and off for over a decade ‘NIA’ is their debut album. Released on Mo’Wax in the UK, anyone familiar with the oeuvre of James Lavelle’s ground-breaking label will not be surprised to learn that NIA occupies similar musical turf to DJ Shadow, Money Mark, and the Beastie Boys. And although Blackalicious are more akin to the MC/DJ conventions of hip-hop then such break-beat luminaries ‘NIA’ still represents one of the best fusions of literate razor-sharp rapping and funky back-beats since the mid-90’s heyday of the likes of The Goats and Michael Franti.

The jagged sonic abrasions that are so prevalent in the current hip-hop scene and often render Wu Tang productions dull and repetitive are occasionally utilised but not to the extent that they overwhelm the listener. Cool soul-funk-jazz grooves create a Stax-P-funk hybrid that frames the incisive lyrics of vocalist Gift of Gab. Eschewing macho posturing they embrace a philosophy of universal spiritual love and, specifically, the promotion of a proud Black identity.

Musicality and dextrous wordplay are present in equal measure. Gift of Gab proves to be more than capable of matching the machine-gun polemic of Public Enemy or Paris, but there’s much more to this album than vocal pyrotechnics. Elements of De La Soul, Funkadelic, and 4-Hero can be discerned in the cut-and-paste mix. Without the self-aggrandizing gangsta theatrics that boosts the profile of many of their hip-hop contemporaries Blackalicious will probably only enjoy moderate commercial success. They deserve more.

4 stars