By Elizabeth Rule
Hip-hop duo Blackalicious released their fourth studio album, Imani Vol 1 on September 18th. Rapper Gift of Gab says this album will be followed by a 3-volume series to be released over the next two years.
Though it has been ten years since Blackalicious put out an album, Gift of Gab and producer Chief Xcel have not been absent from the game altogether. Gift put out three solo albums all while dealing with kidney failure due to type-1 diabetes. Xcel joined up with RV Salters to form Burning House, putting out their debut album Walking into a Burning House in 2013.
Concerning Imani Vol 1, Gift of Gab wanted to make sure fans still understood Blackalicious and their unique sound and message. He told Exclaim in January 2015, “with [Imani Vol 1], because it’s been so long since we put out a record, we wanted people to get Blackalicious, you know?”
This album does exactly that, showcasing Blackalicious’ lyrical search for social justice and their ideas about black identity in America. Gift of Gab intricately weaves words to paint the brightest and most positive collection of songs the duo has produced together. The record’s highlight, “The Sun” is a shining piece of 90’s poppy hip-hop that shows maturing doesn’t have to mean a total change from one’s passionate and creative youth. In fact, Imani Coppola’s chorus in the song “Here comes the light, at the end of the tunnel” is a tribute to the album’s titles Imani which means “faith” in Swahili.
The entire album rings with this message, along with a sense of wisdom and honesty learned from years of hardship and overcoming. The fifth song on the album “Escape” captures this insight, and encourages youth to push forward and escape the circumstances that may be holding them back. Gift doesn’t sensationalize gangster life like some fortysomething rappers today do, instead he lays down the hard truth while keeping hope alive that change can always happen: “Instead of gangster I would rather be a grown man/Because a man handles his business building better days/And a gangster only ends up in the jail or a grave.”
The idea of a brighter tomorrow is certainty a motif in Gift’s life and lyrics. The rapper’s battle with kidney failure seems to bring a narrative of borrowed time to the record, particularly in the song “The Hour Glass.” Gift reminisces about past mistakes and triumphs and realizes it’s all relative to your perspective; the more you give the more you get. “Can’t rewind this tape, it’s 10 on the dot/did you utilize today and give all you got?” Xcel’s melodic tempo in this song sounds like sand trickling down an hourglass, adding to the impact of time constantly moving forward.
Xcel and Gift of Gab haven’t lost any capability from their time off. Thier individual paths once again colliding remind fans that anything is possible with the right attitude and hard work. Imani Vol 1 shows the boys haven’t lost their lyrical touch or funky, top-notch production quality. With their next album promising to be a continuation of this first album’s flow, things can only get brighter for Blackalicious.