Interview: Gift of Gab (Blackalicious)
Published on August 28th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Gift of Gab is hands down Rocksucker’s favourite MC of all time, has been for over a decade now. His work alongside producer Chief Xcel as Blackalicious has yielded a run of two early EPs and three subsequent albums that document a quite astonishing evolution – that of compelling underground experimentalism into jazzily sepia-tinted grooves into full-blown technicolour splendour – and this year has seen the release of Gab’s barnstorming third solo LP Next Logical Progression.
That a fourth Blackalicious LP is on the way would in any sane universe be cause for widespread celebration, and Rocksucker was overjoyed at Gab confirming – over the telephone, in a laid back drawl barely reconcilable with the lyrical whirlwind so endlessly listenable to our ears – a number of other exciting projects on the horizon for himself and his Quannum colleagues/team mates/soul mates. First, though, check out this choice cut from Next Logical Progression…
I read you talking about how you hummed melodic ideas to G. Koop in order to formulate the production of this album. How involved have you been in this record on previous albums, solo or otherwise?
This was the first record that I played a part in musically. Usually, with Xcel on Blackalicious records or anyone else on any other records, they’ll give me a load of beats and I just pick the ones that move me the most, and I’ll write to them. There was a time when people were giving me beats but I wanted my record to sound a certain way. G. Koop is an incredible musician as well as a producer, so I went over to his studio to work on a couple of songs.
I carried a small voice recorder around with me to record different bass lines or piano riffs, any kind of melody or riff that would come into my head, and then I’d take the recordings to G. Koop’s, have him play them and we’d turn them into songs. Obviously G. Koop produced it but on all the other records I was just the lyricist, didn’t play any part in the music. This was the first time I expressed myself musically and I think I’ll do this a lot more.
Do you see Next Logical Progression as being in any way a reaction to Escape 2 Mars, or is it more a case of your solo records being, well, a logical progression?
I don’t think it’s a reaction; each album is a chapter, a different space in time. It’s just where I was at at that time.
What was George Clinton like to work with?
It was incredible. You know, he’s a legend. It was the second time I got to work with him, and both times have been a blessing, an honor and a privilege.
What can you tell us at this stage about the direction the next Blackalicious record is taking?
The new Blackalicious EP is just about finished: it’s called The Sun Giver EP and it’ll be out towards the end of the year, probably November, and we’ll follow that with an album in 2013. I think it really represents the good thing about doing other projects – we get to do Blackalicious then I made some solo records and X has been doing production for other groups – and when we get back together there’s more of a growth, more of a hunger, because Blackalicious is our main thing. I don’t know how I would describe the sound [of The Sun Giver EP] but it’s definitely a step forward. I’m very proud of how it’s coming out.
Does it build upon the kind of technicolour production of Blazing Arrow and The Craft?
That’s the thing: everybody wants to compare to other albums but it’s almost going back to [what I said before]…I mean, obviously we have our sound but we’re not trying to make another Blazing Arrow or another Nia. It’s what’s coming out of us right now creatively. It’s definitely a Blackalicious record but we pride ourselves on being unpredictable, making songs in different styles from one to the next.
How much of the instrumentation on the last two Blackalicious records is organic? Nia sounds mostly sample-based but bits of Blazing Arrow and The Craft sound like they could be live instruments.
You know what, I don’t even know if X wants that to be known. I don’t know if he samples or if there are live musicians that come in; I think X’s whole thing is that he doesn’t want the listener to be able to tell whether the music is live or whether it’s sampled. I don’t want to give away too much!
Yeah, I was just with Latyrx yesterday and I was talking with Shadow a couple of weeks ago: we’re definitely going to do that again. It’s a lot of different artists going in a lot of different directions so it’s just a matter of getting everybody to focus on one thing at the same time. Obviously everyone’s got their own individual projects but we’ve talked about doing another Quannum tour in the future. We still talk to each other on a daily basis so it’s just a matter of everybody getting their individual projects done and getting together in the same space.
Do you know if Lateef the Truthspeaker and Lyrics Born plan on doing another album as Latyrx?
Yes, definitely. Like I said I was with them yesterday and they’re working on a next Latyrx record right now.
I don’t know if it’s up-to-date news but I just saw on the Quannum website that Melodica is now available on iTunes…
We rereleased Melodica on 31st July and it’s available on iTunes with a bonus song, “Changes”. It’s gotten good feedback in the blogs thus far. We wanted to warm fans up, get people ready for the new EP, get a small buzz going so that when we come back…you know, we haven’t put a record out since 2005.
What are your memories of Blackalicious, and indeed the whole Quannum collective, at that time? It must have been an exciting period.
Wow, that was a whole other time! Back then it was about freestyling 24 hours a day with Lateef and Lyrics Born, and Xcel, Lyrics Born and DJ Shadow were always searching for records. We would jam with other crews, it was a time where it was just about a shared love of hip-hop and the music we wanted to make.
Do you mind me asking after your health?
I’m doing well now. I still go to dialysis three days a week but I’m working towards a kidney transplant which will be some time in the future. I’m still in the studio, and I can still go out and about. Unfortunately I can’t come out to the UK just yet because I have to be here for the dialysis, but I’m doing good. Thanks for asking.
Are there any obscure and/or up-and-coming artists that you’d like to recommend or give a shout-out to?
Too many, man. I’m just a fan of music so if I started naming people we could be here all day. Anybody that’s pushing the boundaries, anybody that’s passionate about what they do.
Finally, if you had to spend the rest of your life with the entire works of just four different musical artists, whose would you choose?
Wow. My answer would probably be different at any given moment but, off the top of my head, I would say Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield and Gil Scott-Heron.
Gift of Gab, thank you.