Creating truly great hip-hop across a few decades is a very hard task. But while Jay-Z 20 years into his career is rapping about cake and Kanye’s constantly demanding croissants, Blackalicious have returned with another atom bomb of funk-infused hip-hop in the shape of Imani, Vol. 1, their first LP in over ten years. The Californian duo – Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel – aren’t short on unique melodies and are unafraid of getting a little deep (‘imani’ means ‘faith’ in Swahili).
In the live arena, Chief Xcel’s funky beats and melodies feel phatter than ever and Gift of Gab lives up to his name with some stunning lyrical flow and perfectly-pitched rhymes that will make even the greats blush. You might even get a delicious buffet of tunes from their previous efforts spanning all the way back to 1999 at their Cluny gig on Tuesday 27th October. If you’ve only heard of them from that time Harry Potter rapped one of their songs on Jimmy Fallon, make sure you get a good dose of the real thing. Blackalicious will restore your imani in hip-hop.
I caught up with Chief Xcel for a quick chat about the album, collaborations and diverse sounds.
Congratulations on the release of Imani, Vol.1! It’s been a decade since the last time you released an album together as Blackalicious; what initially made you decide to record again now?
It wasn’t a question of just deciding now. We’ve always planned to make more records. We just tend to take time between projects. It gives us a chance to come back to Blackalicious recordings with a fresh perspective.
In the time between your last album together and now you’ve both released a lot of music either solo or collaboratively with other people. Has working with others or individually shaped the sound of this record at all?
It definitely has. We like doing the outside projects because they help us to grow creatively. We try to make the sound reflect the growth.
There’s a lot of collaborations on this record too, with everyone from Bosko to Imani Coppola performing alongside you on many of the tracks. How did you get such a range of artists to come and guest on the record?
It was all really organic. With each song we just tried to take a step back and figure out what energy was needed. For Inspired By I wanted that classic Talk Box sound. Bosko is a Talk Box legend so it was a perfect fit. With The Sun we had tried several different hooks before connecting with Imani Coppola. All the versions were really dope but just not quite it. When she sent us her version we instantly knew it was the one.
A lot of the beats and melodies on this record have a very timeless quality to them. Some of them – like on Inspired By – have a very 80s funk inspired rhythm while others have a more contemporary feel to them. What did you set out to achieve when you started making the music for Imani?
It was really just about creating a diverse sound scape for G to do his thing. We recorded a lot of material for this project so as the other two volumes roll out you’ll really get an even better sense of the ground we covered.
Overall, Imani Vol.1 is a very upbeat but also inspirational record; what did you want people to take away from listening to it?
It just really another glimpse into us as people. We really have no control over what people do or don’t take away from. We just stay focused on making the forest records possible.
In the decade since the last Blackalicious record you’ve been sampled by everyone from relative newcomers Rae Sremmurd to Grammy winner Macklemore. How do feel that the newer generation of hip-hop and rap artists are still being heavily influenced by your work?
It’s dope. Art is a continuum. We all are just adding to it.
Your records – and especially this latest album – are very inspirational and have the power to touch many people in different ways with their messages, while some rap and hip-hop recently has often been criticised for being too centred on materialistic things and bragging about having a rich lifestyle. I was wondering what you thought of the current state of rap and hip-hop?
I think there some really dope music being made right now. I don’t spend time focusing on what’s not good because there’s too much great music still to be discovered.
You’ll be kicking off your UK tour in Newcastle – what can we expect from you during this tour?
A great night. We work hard to bring our fans 70 intense minutes of great music.
What can we expect from Imani, Vol.2?
This interview was originally conducted for NARC. Magazine Online.