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The Craft

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Album Review

OutKast was only one of many rap artists to gain a profile among music fans of all stripes, even as they sold millions of records, but it must have been difficult for those in the hip-hop underground to greet their general commercial breakout with equanimity rather than jealousy. Big Boi and Andre 3000 became paragons of cool among teenagers and 30-somethings, owned the ears and wallets of generalist listeners as well as the critical cognoscenti, and earned glowing features in The Source and Rolling Stone. No doubt the San Francisco duo Blackalicious were watching OutKast as first Stankonia and then Speakerboxxx/The Love Below began crossing over, and though Blackalicious already commanded respect from thousands of hip-hop fans, their third full LP found them seeking out new audiences with a slightly greater emphasis on radio-ready pop (courtesy of soon-to-be single "Powers," a dead ringer for "Hey Ya"). For several tracks, producer Chief Xcel recruited the elements of a funk band to shoulder the weight usually carried by his unerring sampling sense, and the guitars-and-beats formula works very well (not least because Xcel and rapper Gift of Gab feel free to desert the formula periodically). Although Gift of Gab reveals a slight lack of material one year on from his first solo record, the band format helps Gab find different ways to deliver his vocals — avoiding the crutch of his flashy speed raps from previous records. While the first half of the album may sound like a watered-down Blazing Arrow, everything picks up when the duo unveil two of the grooviest message tracks since Stevie Wonder's "Livin' for the City" in "The Fall and Rise of Elliot Brown" and "Black Diamonds and Pearls." As on Blazing Arrow, they make the most of an influences track by recruiting an elderly, potentially unstable performer — here George Clinton, there Gil Scott-Heron — by minimizing their contributions (but not their impact).

Biography

Formed: 1992 in Davis, CA

Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Like a few other West Coast rap acts, including the Pharcyde and Jurassic 5, Blackalicious has generally favored what hip-hoppers call the "positive tip"; in other words, its lyrics have often been spiritual and uplifting rather than violent or misogynous. Like a lot of experimental alternative rappers, Blackalicious can be quirky and eccentric; nonetheless, spirituality is a big part of the group's music. Although Blackalicious wasn't formed until the early '90s, its members had known each other...
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The Craft, Blackalicious
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