In 2004, half of the hip-hop dynamic duo known as Blackalicious (MC Gift of Gab and beatmaster DJ Chief XL) released a solo album. That man was one Gift of Gab. And the album was a bitter, bitter disappointment to fans of his work with Blackalicious. After releasing two utterly classic hip hop albums, he released unto the world one of the most highly-expected, poorly-received rap albums ever. That might not be exactly true, but the let-down was, indeed, great. So it seems logical that most fans would be wary of a new release from Blackalicious. Perhaps Gift of Gab had finally run out of things to say.
And so we have The Craft upon us. And it is, in point of fact, breath-taking. Any worries that previous fans may have had should be instantly removed, as Gab is right on point once again, smooth and soulful as ever. DJ Chief XL's orchestral arrangements are still some of the most creative in modern hip hop. The guest appearances, part of what upset so many about Blazing Arrow (needlessly), are in lesser numbers, are more subtle, and are, in fact, much better than they've been. From George Clinton to fellow Quannum Projects upstarts Lyrics Born and Lateef the Truth Speaker, everyone who touched this record is lyrical golden, with the phrasings to match.
Instead of seeming like a rehashing of already classic material that was found on Arrow and Nia, Blackalicious seems to have only gotten better and more interesting. Their soulful, funkdafied blend of hip hop and spoken word would leave even Saul Williams in awe. The beats are nowhere near typical, often so far out there that they make Outkast seem average. This is what underground hip hop should be. Forget all the Atmosphere clones and Ludacris wannabes; Blackalicious is the greatest hip hop act still releasing albums. It's jazzy, intricate, and original. And closing track "The Craft" sounds like it could easily have been put as a backing track to an episode of Star Trek. Or on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. Take your pick. Backpackers, disco divas, sci-fi geeks, rejoice! Your savior has arrived.