When: Thu., Sept. 3, 9 p.m. 2015
Timothy “Gift of Gab” Parker and Xavier “Chief Xcel” Mosley have been performing as Blackalicious since ’91 and didn’t release their first album, Nia, till ’99—so to them, the ten-year wait for the new Imani: Vol. 1 (OMG Recordings) might not seem so long. Gift of Gab earned his stripes as a battle lyricist, and his dexterous tumbles of syllables still go on for so long that he must have lungs the size of dirigibles. With his playful but professorial demeanor, he can sound like Neil deGrasse Tyson, and he only occasionally mars his uplifting rhymes with “real hip-hop” posturing. Chief Xcel’s funky, hard-hitting beats contribute the thumping soul to this serious-minded party—packed with sassy hip-check syncopations, they often sound almost like a live R&B band, with chattering wah-wah guitar, elastic electric bass, slinky jazz-hands synths, icy-cool piano vamping, simmering marimba, and tasteful turntablism. “Imani” means “faith” in Swahili, and the album colors its brainy conscious rap with old-school Afrocentrism: the opening cut, “Faith,” features Amde Hamilton of late-60s proto-hip-hop group the Watts Prophets, and the title track rides on a lilting, polyphonic hook from Afro-pop group Zap Mama. Gab embraces Afrocentrism’s emphasis on positivity, strength, and self-sufficiency, endowing black people with almost mythological stature: “I am the seat on the bus that Rosa Parks was sitting in / I am Timbuktu, they want to keep me hidden,” he raps on “Blacka.” The MC has suffered from diabetes-related kidney failure since 2012, and he’s searching for a donor while undergoing dialysis—which is to say the next Blackalicious tour could be a ways off.