Famous for their super-fast, super-intelligent lyrics and unbelievably funky beats, Blackalicious has been perfecting their sound since the early 1990s, and they’ve never missed a step.
Famous for their super-fast, super-intelligent lyrics and unbelievably funky beats, Blackalicious has been perfecting their sound since the early 1990s, and they’ve never missed a step. Since forming their own record label, Solesides/Quannum, which also includes the talented DJ Shadow, Lyrics Born and Portland’s own claim to hip-hop fame The Livesavas, Blackalicious have been instrumental for years in bringing relevant and poignant underground music to the masses. Touring in support of their first DVD, 4/20 Live in Seattle, this group is famous for their live shows and is clearly not afraid of making their presence known in the great Northwest.
This week, The Vanguard interviewed the lyrical half of Blackalicious, Gift of Gab, and discussed Portland, famous MCs and dealing with groupies.
You’re the lyricist in Blackalicious. Can you tell me who else is involved? Blackalicious is just myself, the Gift of Gab, and Chief Xcel. Live, there’s a whole other element to the band though. When we’re playing live, we have keyboards, drums and a couple of back-up vocalists, pretty much everything.
I was wondering about some of your older songs. How is working with Chief Xcel different from some of the other beat makers you’ve had in the past, such as Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow? I figure it’s just a different chemistry. I relate it to traveling: You can live in a dope, dope city, but then it’s always cool to go out and see somewhere else, you get a new perspective. Together, Xcel and I have a chemistry that’s impeccable. As Blackalicious, we see the same way. I look at things lyrically the way that Chief Xcel looks at them musically, if you know what I mean.
Have you ever played in Portland before? Oh, plenty of times! Portland is definitely one of our biggest fan bases. We always get plenty of love when we’re in Portland.
Let’s talk a little bit about the songwriting process: Do you usually write the lyrics first and then have Xcel come up with the beats, or the other way around? Usually, it’s the beats first. I like to kind of go where the beat takes me. I listen to the beat and then just follow where it takes me stylistically. Sometimes, we can just get together and come up with a song out of nowhere, and then occasionally, I’ll write the lyrics, and he’ll just put the music to the lyrics.
So does that mean you have to be physically together when you’re making a song, or can he just send you beats wherever you are? When we come up with a song out of nowhere, we can do it in the same spot. But most of the time I’ll give him his space to come up with the music, he’ll give it to me, and then give me my space to come up with lyrics. Then, we come together and combine all of our ideas and all of our input.
What is your opinion of rappers that become super famous like 50 Cent and Kanye West, and do you think that money and fame can ever take away from the artistic value of music? I just got both of their records, and I like both their records a lot. But, I think that as far as being in it for the fame rather than the music is concerned, it’s a trip, because you would really have to put yourself in that position. You have to imagine you in the position of doing something that you love, something you’re really passionate about, and all the sudden you’re making millions and getting famous: It has to affect you. You have to find a balance. I mean, I think Kayne and 50 are both still dope, and they’re still making good music, but I do know what you’re talking about, artists losing their hunger for the art. Once an artist loses their hunger for the art, then that’s when they fall off. That’s when they just get wack.
Are there any up-and-coming artists that you think we should be listening to up here in Portland but just might not know about yet? This is going to sound crazy, but I think that the Lifesavas are making some of the best hip-hop that’s out right now. Because you’re from Portland, it might sound like I’m trying to brownnose, and they are in my crew, so it sounds like I’m just plugging them or whatever, but I honestly believe that the Lifesavas are making some of the most original music that I’ve heard in a while. And, I know you guys listen to Pigeon John up there.
What’s your favorite way to relax after a long day of making music? I like reading. I like hanging out with good people, people that I’m cool with. I really like female company. Kick back, smoke a fat cigar [laughs], and watch Family Guy DVDs. I love watching stand-up comedy, especially Richard Pryor, Chris Rock and Redd Foxx. I have a whole collection. I like comedy because, to me, laughing is one of the healthiest things you can possibly do.
Speaking of female company, how do you deal with the massive amounts of groupies you have after a show? Oh god, um, do I? I don’t know that I do all the time. If I go out into the crowd and I connect with somebody, then that’s cool. But other than that, I’m 37 years old right now. I did a lot of wowing out like that when I was in my twenties, I’ve been touring since I was 23. So I just kind of look at it like a job now…
Blackalicious, Lyrics Born, Crown City Rockers and the Mighty UnderdogsFriday, Oct. 19Crystal BallroomAll AgesDoors open at 8 p.m., show at 8:30 p.m.$25