Listening to Gift of Gab rhyme on Blackalicious's 1999 EP, A2G, was like watching someone juggle flaming chain saws: he spewed a seemingly endless supply of offbeat images with the kind of speed, breath control, and stamina that made me wonder if his lungs weren't transplanted from an elephant. To match that energy, Chief Xcel came up with the kind of rambunctious, frolicsome beats that suggested a seven-year-old on a sugar high was working behind the boards. Xcel's production style is more sophisticated on this year's The Craft (Anti-): he's more willing to change up the sound of a track within the space of a song, adding new instrumental layers for a few bars and then casting them off. Strings and winds give way to keyboards, synth pop to 70s soul and funk, but the album never breaks down into just a disjointed collection of good songs (like 2000's Nia). Gab's rapping is as elastic as ever, but lyrically he seems much less interested in off-the-top-of-the-dome flights of fancy--he's never lacked for meaningful subject matter, but it now makes up the bulk of his material. While I miss the old Gab, the new style works. "The Fall and Rise of Elliot Brown," a story about a street hustler who redeems himself in prison, is the crowning achievement of The Craft, showcasing both Gab's protean delivery and Xcel's skill at reworking the beat to match the mood of the lyrics. Tue 11/29, 7:30 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage, 773-929-5959 or 312-559-1212, $20, 18+.