Quannum Projects / MCA
For better and worse, a lot of things change when a major label picks up an underground group. It leaves me, for one, not knowing exactly how to feel. In 2G, Blackalicious dropped Nia, which was most definitely one of the best albums that year. With their gritty, Afro-hippie sound and Gift of Gab’s brilliant rhyme skills, they made this reviewer a convert and proselytizer. Every chance I got, I sang the West Coast duo’s praises. Obviously, I was by no means alone. In the past two years, Blackalicious has obviously gathered fans and friends in (apparently) high places.
So, now, in 2002, we have the group’s second effort, Blazing Arrow. And I don’t know if it’s my own skepticism, their sophomore slump, or some major meddling, but there seems to be something missing. Perhaps, it’s the grit. Nia was rough around the edges, but it had felt more like a stylistic choice than technological limitations (much like late-’80s hip-hop). Now, G.O.G. and Chief Xcel are schmooove — you can feel the disc just slide into your player. And they’ve gone from underground to some sort of quasi-street-level nobility. Their cortege is long and reads like a Who’s That? Who’s Who: Gil Scott-Heron, Chali 2NA, Keke Wyatt, Ben Harper, Dilated Peoples’ Rakaa and Babu, Cut Chemist, Jaguar Wright, Saul Williams, and the production help of ?uestlove and Hi-Tek.
The end result is an album that has more of a pop/R&B, “happy rap” feeling like Kid ‘N Play or early De La Soul. While they still have that Afro-hippie feel and content (definitely doing it their way), there’s a shiny gloss that covers the entire project. I’m still digging on Blazing Arrow, don’t get me wrong. Blackalicious is still one of the best acts out there; it just doesn’t have the same punch that makes Nia so memorable.