By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
Blackalicious frames Nia with a series of interludes; the songs themselves are a beautiful pastiche of classic breaks, constructed of familiar, if tantalizingly unplaceable melodies. The result is one of spiritual uplift; theirs is the kind of music that becomes truly evocative, that achieves the desired effect even if you can't quite negotiate hip-hop's lexicon of slang or keep up with every rapid-fire verse. Gift of Gab knows the difference between dexterity and braggadocio, complementing rather than exceeding his musical accompaniment.
Nia's rhythms are hardly abstract. Each song inspires delirious head nodding, yet each individual element (most of which, though machine made, are original and sample free) never sounds confined within the overall melody. This impermanence gives the music a vitality and a freshness that cannot be achieved by the cut-and-paste simplicities that dominate rap sales charts. Chief Xcel displays the same kind of versatility in his production that veteran Pete Rock does, with noteworthy but never monotonous similarities between tracks, also mimicking Rock's tendency to introduce beats and then steal them away just as you're getting comfortable. The interludes are a perfect combination of underspoken songwriting and rhyme-free verse, which marks one of the few instances in recorded memory that the spoken word hasn't proven immediately excruciating.
Unfortunately hip-hop's current marketplace mood is to dismiss anything that smacks of being too intelligent, too challenging, and ultimately, too tough a sell. Nia is a rewarding attempt to buck that trend.