November 3, 2015

Reader Review: Blackalicious - A2G (EP) (April 30, 1999)



(Getting back to the Cali theme that it looks like I've abandoned, but damn it, it's still happening, Jay turns in a Reader Review for Blackalicious' second EP, A2G.  Leave your notes for Jay below, and in the meantime, I am actually trying to get back to this whole "review" thing, but time is a luxury I don't always have.)


As a young’n, I was only ever allowed to buy "clean" versions of hip hop albums. If anyone has ever listened to an album like this, you will know that it’s quite awkward-sounding and utterly pointless, considering how easy it is to figure out what exactly is being said using simple context clues. Still, the parental units didn’t want these words and images floating around my young, innocent head, and I had an unquenchable thirst for hip hop, so I dealt with it, always wishing that I could listen to an album from start to finish without the ever-approaching one- to three-second pause between every other word. That’s when an older friend turned me onto Blackalicious.

Blackalicious is a Sacramento, California-based duo composed of appropriately-named emcee Gift of Gab and producer and deejay Chief Xcel. Together they fall into the “conscious hip hop” category, featuring introspective, socially-minded rhymes that happen to be just about absent of f-bombs and sex raps. They released three full-length albums before disbanding for ten years, only to return in 2015 with Imani Vol. 1

What I’ll be reviewing today, however, is their second EP, entitled A2G.  (I'm going with their second EP and not their first, Melodica, as I have yet to hear that one myself.)

1. A TO G
An impressive song to start things off, which sees Gift of Gab, backed by a sample taken, presumably, from some sort of children’s program, reciting alliterated lines alphabetically from letters, you guessed it, "A To G". Why he stopped at 'G', I’m not too sure. Maybe because these first seven letters make up the Musical Alphabet, or maybe he just got tired and decided to move on with life (though I would have loved to hear him rapping lines that began exclusively with X)? Nevertheless, this song is a unique idea that the duo work with pretty well. Also, this is probably the most impressive beat on the EP, with some nice bending guitar samples and good back and forth between Gab and the samples that introduce new letters.

2. CLOCKWORK
Chief Xcel supplies a beat that sounds like it’s using a keyboard to emulate slap bass sounds, reminding me of the music from Seinfeld, while Gift of Gab proves his skill of making complex rhymes come out with ease.  Pretty typical Blackalicious for you, really.

3. ROCK THE SPOT
And now Gift of Gab falls into the oft-made mistake of being a rapper who thinks that singing a chorus is a good idea, to pretty unimpressive effect. His verses are just as impressive as on the previous two songs, though, and the beat is on point, with some nice scratches towards the end and some triumphant horns popping up in the chorus.

4. BACK TO THE ESSENCE (FEAT. LATEEF)
Gab’s buddy Lateef the Truth Speaker takes the first verse and the chorus, and is still completely overshadowed by his host, who has a far more interesting flow and shows some dynamics in his verse.

5. DECEPTION
I always enjoy when rappers show a little diversity and throw some effects on their vocals, as is done here. This is more of a storytelling tune, weaving a tale of an emerging hip hop artist. It’s a little corny (especially with the “moral of the story…be true to yourself” ending), but I see why Gab felt the need to switch up the pace of the record a bit, as what is presented is a oft-repeated story that many hip hop artists have experienced (I assume).

6. MAKING PROGRESS
Another positive message tune. It’s nice enough, I suppose.

7. ALPHABET AEROBICS (THE CUT CHEMIST 2 1/2 MINUTE WORKOUT)
The only song on A2G not produced by Chief Xcel features a slowly increasing tempo over a minimalist Cut Chemist beat. Definitely the most interesting track on the EP since the title track, mainly just because they’re doing something unusual and technically impressive.

FINAL THOUGHTS: In a world filled with overlong, skit-riddled hip-hop albums, it’s nice to sit down and fly through a twenty-five minute EP such as A2G. As far as content goes, there’s not really any filler on here, but that doesn’t mean that every single track is a standout. Chief Xcel supplies the right kind of beats, heavy on the samples and 1990’s vibe, and Gift Of Gab’s flow is persistently impressive, but this is just the beginning for Blackalicious: the duo would move on to more ambitious things that truly cemented their place in the game. Still, this is an entertaining listen, an essential one for fans of the likes of Common, Black Star, and The Roots and their ilk.

BUY OR BURN? This one might be hard to find a physical copy of for cheap, but if you find it in the used bins, it’s worth picking up.

BEST TRACKS: “A to G”; “Alphabet Aerobics”

-Jay

(Questions?  Comments?  Concerns?  You know where to leave them.)

8 comments:

  1. Will there ever be a review for Piñata? Come on Max....

    Nice short review, but I don't really care for Blackalicous so my opinion won't matter.
    I would love to see some more remix stuff from you Max

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  2. Max please confirm when you will be reviewing both the Documentary 2 and The Documentary 2.5 as both albums fall under your lacklustre Cali theme.

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    Replies
    1. Are my previous vague answers not good enough?

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  3. Blackalicious had a song on one of the NBA 2k games.. called "Excellent". I always liked that track. Sounds like this EP isn't the place to start though..

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  4. Will i finally get the nia and blazing arrow write-ups i've always wanted

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  5. No.. Obviously.

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  6. Please get back to the good old album reviews as the remix series has indeed run its course

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    Replies
    1. There are literally thousands of hip hop remixes out there. I could easily give up the reviews completely and just talk about remixes. Don't tempt me.

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