Blackalicious - Blazing Arrow | RECORD STORE DAY

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Blackalicious—Bay Area MC/DJ Chief Xcel and full-time lyricist Gift ofGab—have one of the best names in hip-hop, a name that suggests pride,consciousness, and an organic feel. You know, all the things hardcore hip-hoppersfind boring, and most of the time, it must be said, those folks have a point.The duo's little-heard debut, the 1994 Melodica EP, laid any doubts torest that consciousness could also be entertaining. But the stuffy feel of lastyear's Nia—with its prominent flute-driven arrangements, self-consciouslyAfrocentric interludes and an incense-drenched guest appearance by poet NikkiGiovanni—was a little too much like being force-fed granola at a tediouscollege lecture.

Blazing Arrow, on the other hand, feels far less ponderous even if itdoes tread much of the same lyrical ground as its predecessor, and its grooveis far stickier. The difference is a regained looseness in both the vocal performances,particularly Gab's, and the production, handled by Dan the Automator andthe Roots' ?uestlove as well as Xcel. There are guest vocalists all overthe album, too, but most of those are more marginal, though there are standoutappearances from Cut Chemist (who forces Gab to keep up with the DJ's quickeningscratches on "Chemical Calisthenics") and Lyrics Born's stoned,thick-voiced cool on "Release" (which also features Zach De La Rochashrieking like a gnat in a matchbox in the background and spoken-word guy SaulWilliams continuing to blow the minds of folks who don't actually readpoetry).