The Craft – Blackalicious
Anti/Quannum Projects 86745-2
I didn’t write this
The studio is a place that can either wreck a musician or prove to be a wonderful toy store of epic proportion for the creative-minded knob twister. This latter attribute is especially important to any rapper worth his 40-ouncer and notepad full of street prose poetry with its vitriol about The Man and The Lady Mystique. Blackalicious has always been an operation that used the studio as a way to meld a multitude of various bits and snippets and soul and funk power with an avalanche of clever and humorously pointed words on a rap sheet that is varied and endlessa marriage of form and substance.
Their current slab, The Craft, is a concept album about the function and purpose of hip-hop, rap and the power of rhymin’ lyrics. The piece features the production team of Xavier Mosley and Timothy Parker filling the executive slot while Chief Xcel handles production, the artistic process and thematic continuity. The fourteen songs host a chorus of voices including Lateef “The Truth” Speaker, Pigeon John, Natalie Stewart, Lyrics Born, Lifesavas, Peace and guest vocalists Ledisi, KWEEN, Larry Saunders and George Clinton, among many others.
The overall victory is that no vocalist veers from the overriding force of the album from track to track. Momentum increases; tangents are explored; the pace of the piece is flawlessly handled with production tricks to hide the textural differences. In other words, segues become sublime montages featuring radio snippets, monologues, conversations, phone messages, synth as horn backdrops and great gobs of audio headphone gold. Clinton manages a strong vocal while supplementing the complex tale enfolding with a mixture of that old P-Funk leer and magic. His appearance alone personifies a great example of guest musician as a linked thematic strand instead of an awkward parallel development. Huh?! He don’t upset the vibe, man.
Take a long, deep breath.
Highlights include the impossible breath intake challenge of rap lyrics like the impressive “Rhythm Sticks,” where weird montages come out of nowhere like some super soul version of Pink Floyd that contains foreshadowing of future Craft developments: “Powers” at the end of “Sticks,” Clinton on “Lotus Flower,” sounding like a man who has smoked enough pot for ten lifetimes and delivering a wonderfully gravely and kinky 4-D vocal performance; “My Pen and Dad” that had my VW bouncin’ up and down around the hood as the homies wondered why some hippie was actin’ like Shaq (shit’s REAAUULLL, mofo); “Side to Side,” with its mixture of Billy Dee Williams, 1930s two-step jazz and modern day Dylanesque “Idiot Wind” trash talk about some chick that someone oughta “put some sense in… cause her IQ’s bout sixbeing that stupid in publicthere should be a law against.”
There are the Chop Top/Buckethead guitar underpinnings of “Your Move,” the wacked-out rhythms and rhymes of the glorious inner city cinemascope of “The Fall and Rise of Elliot Brown,” with another supersonic rap delivery and the album’s best groove as they shift down into pure soul magic at the minute mark raises the song into classic late night “Let’s fuck” funk status; current scene crackdown and anti-war questions in the glorious front page news story that is “Black Diamonds and Pearls;” the last 45 seconds of the aforementioned “Side to Side” with a guest female monologue about poetry and channelin’ and ripples of mathematicsthe three basics of an artistic education, ya dig, and the key to the door that opens up the hour long subversive ride through The Craft.
I just let the pen move by itself
- “Automatique,” Blackalicious