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In a hip-hop career that has stretched past a decade, BLACKALICIOUS has earned respect the old-fashioned way - rising through honesty, commitment, and artistry. With Blazing Arrow, their fourth album and their major label debut, they achieved their most fully realized album in a consistently ground-breaking discography. Ranging from verbal funk-burners and battle-rhyme rippers to expertly crafted future-soul and convention-crushing experimentation, Blazing Arrow moves from strength to strength on Chief Xcel's studio wizardry and the Gift of Gab's quicksilver tongue, igniting fires in the soul and body.
The record also features appearances from a star-studded list of friends and admirers, including Zach De La Rocha (formerly of Rage Against The Machine), Ben Harper, ?uestlove (The Roots), Chali 2Na and Cut Chemist (Jurassic 5), Saul Williams, Gil Scott-Heron, Tracey Moore (Jazzyfatnasteez), Jonell, Jaguar, Money Mark, James Poyser, and Paul Humphrey. And of course, there are collaborations with Quannum crewmates DJ Shadow, Lyrics Born, Lateef The Truth Speaker, Joyo Velarde, Erinn Anova, and the Life Savas.
Self-described "everyday brothers," the Bay Area native Xavier Mosley (Chief Xcel) and the San Fernando Valley native Tim Parker (Gift of Gab) met at John F. Kennedy High School in Sacramento in 1987 and immediately struck up a friendship over hip-hop. As Tim (known as Gabby T) and Xavier (then DJ IceSki) began plying their skills in the area, they decided to become a crew. Although they separated after Gab graduated in 1989, they kept in close touch and decided in 1991 to become Blackalicious.
Xcel's friends at the University of CaliforNia at Davis were forming a crew called SoleSides, including DJ Shadow, Lyrics Born, and Lateef The Truth Speaker (known together as Latyrx). In 1992, Gab moved to Davis to reunite with Xcel and found an intense, progressive collective, centered on rowdy KDVS radio shows and all-night living-room freestyle sessions. As Xcel prepared their first album, Gab joined DJ Shadow to record "Count and Estimate" as part of Shadow's side of the first SoleSides label 12-inch in late 1992, and released it to underground acclaim.
Blackalicious then recorded Melodica, released on SoleSides in 1995. The EP's soulful journey - displaying Xcel's lush, layered production and Gab's introspective, whiplash rhymes on classics like "Swan Lake," "40 oz. For Breakfast," and "Deep In The Jungle" - fired the imagination of heads worldwide. By the time they began recording Nia in 1996, Billboard magazine was calling the crew the Bay Area's most important new hip-hop group.
But by the end of 1997, Blackalicious and the SoleSides Crew reached a crossroads. SoleSides folded and was reborn as Quannum. In all, Nia took three obstacle-filled years to make. Just as Xcel was experiencing profound creative growth, Gab fell into personal turmoil. That tension was reflected in the deeply moving album that resulted. As Gab says, "We always speak from our hearts about life as we see it, life as we know it, and life as we would like to see it." Nia - a Swahili word meaning "purpose" - took on a very real meaning.
Nia was preceded by 1999's A2G EP-which featured "Alphabet Aerobics," a wickedly original collaboration with Jurassic 5's Cut Chemist. The two records proved to be something of a personal and spiritual triumph, and both sold over a hundred thousand copies each. In late 2000, Blackalicious signed with MCA; their release Blazing Arrow marks a continuing progression. "Nia was really about purpose and finding the path," says Xcel. "Blazing Arrow is about faith, having the strength to endure that path. It's an arrow in flight."