Lyrics free of the gratuitous violence, misogyny, expletives, and overall "thugged-out/pimpin'/flossin' my ice/packing a gat" mentality that litters the bulk of commercial hip-hop, Blackalicious -- rapper Gift of Gab (Tim Parker) and his partner DJ/producer Chief Xcel (Xavier Mosley) -- is, as Gab rhymes, "prone to leave your dome blown with the poem, homes." Blazing Arrow also distinguishes the Bay Area duo from the current underground contingent of hip-hop, where all you need is to insert a few "conscious" (but ultimately trite or clichéd) nuggets into a stream-of-consciousness rap and an underground emcee is said to be "droppin' knowledge." But one of Blazing Arrow's strengths is that rapper Gab actually writes cohesive raps that stick to a particular theme, in contrast to so many hip-hop tunes that change course whenever the emcee runs out of thematic punch lines. Meantime, X's tracks are anchored in vintage soul and jazz, but with plenty of unexpected twists -- odd sound flourishes (gurgling noises, ticking clocks), breakdowns played in reverse, and crazy tempo change-ups that make you wonder if you're still on the same song. While many indie, underground, or conscious rappers devote a lot of time to pontificating on the degenerate state of hip-hop, pointing out the foibles of their gangsta/playa peers, songs on Arrow focus less on diagnosing hip-hop's diseased colon and more on Zenlike notions of faith, peace of mind, and the simple pleasures along the road of life. Blackalicious, it seems, is leading by example.
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David Wollock