Don't let money change ya. That's the message of "Deception," arguably the most well-known and anthemic track by Bay Area duo Blackalicious. It's also a creed the group's vastly skilled, tongue-twisting MC Gift of Gab (née Timothy Parker) seems to have taken to heart. After releasing its three full-length albums—all critically acclaimed—between 1999 and 2005 and developing a widespread following, Blackalicious went on hiatus and hasn't released an album since. Sure, Gab and DJ/producer Chief Xcel have put out a flurry of solo and side projects, but why leave behind something so fresh in its prime? Gab spoke to the Alibi about it in advance of playing in Albuquerque on Wednesday, Feb. 29. He’s headlining a show with several local DJs in celebration of the ninth anniversary of Vinyl & Verses, the free Wednesday night hip-hop series at Burt's Tiki Lounge.
Why after all of Blackalicious' success did you branch off into a solo career?
Me and [DJ Xcel] have actually been a group since 1988. We hooked up in high school, so we've been a group for a long time, and it just came to a point. ... I think the best thing you can do as an artist is work with other people. It's kind of like traveling—you might love your home and where you're at, but it's nothing like going to visit a city you've never been to, because you just get different energy from it, you get a different vibe from it.
What are you listening to?
I like Tyler, The Creator. I like everything Kanye does. Some people disagree with me, but I like everything Kanye does. I'm looking forward to the new Q-Tip album, The Last Zulu. I love Lil' Wayne. It's a lot of influences. I listen to everybody, man.
That's interesting that you mention Tyler, because while you've been heralded for your positivity, he's gotten a lot of backlash for the homophobic and sexist elements in his lyrics.
I think he does it on purpose, though. I think he's a son of Eminem. Or you could even say a son of “Chappelle’s Show," or a son of "Family Guy." These are all shows that came out in the ’90s where the humor aspect was: Let's cross this line on purpose, and offend people, with the intent of crossing this line on purpose and offending people.
But what do you think crossing those lines achieves from a hip-hop perspective?
I think that hip-hop can be anything and that art doesn't have to be positive. If you listen to groups like N.W.A., Compton's Most Wanted—that was, in my opinion, great music. But you've got a lot of people that are going, Oh, this is negative, this is promoting the negativity. Nah, but it was honest. It was what they were going through and what they saw in their communities. And that's the thing: People look at it like positive hip-hop vs. negative hip-hop. Music and art doesn't have to be right. It just has to be an honest reflection of what that individual is experiencing.
So how do you feel about the term "conscious hip-hop”?
I think it's just another term. It's cool, because I guess you could say that that's what it is, but it goes back to what I was saying, that back in the days N.W.A., Slick Rick, Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions—who all basically said different things—but you could have them all on the same tour. But since you've had "gangster rap," you've had "backpack rap," now everything has to be categorized.
Where do you personally draw a line between mainstream and underground, commercialism and integrity?
If you're listening to a lot of Prince and want to do a pop record, do a pop record. I say be honest and do the type of music you want to do, and make the kind of records that you want to hear.
You opened for KRS-One in Albuquerque a few years back. What are your general impressions of New Mexico?
Fuckin' crazy! No, I'm just playin'. [Laughs.] It's got a lot of energy, especially Albuquerque. It's like, people talk about New York like people in New York are in your face. No—people in Albuquerque are in your face-type people! That's real. Every time I've gone out there I've gotten that vibe. It's a fun town. Anyone will talk to you. They will start talking to you like they've known you for years. It's crazy, not in a bad way, though, it's a cool way. ... Especially cab drivers. You get in a cab and a cab driver will just start telling you all of his personal business ... I love it, though, I love the energy of Albuquerque.
When can we expect another Blackalicious album?
We're working on the next Blackalicious album right now. It's crazy—my record will be out March 26 and the Blackalicious record won't be that far after that. It will be late this year / early next year.
If you could reanimate and collaborate with one dead musical genius, who would it be?
What would you do with him?
Some sort of hip-hop, “Trenchtown Rock” thing. Just ’cause when I listen to him it's like I'm listening to the scriptures. His stuff was, like, really from the soul.