Wed Sept 1, Chop Suey, 9 pm, $15 adv.
Gift of Gab is the emcee for Blackalicious, a duo that stands among the elite of the Bay Area's underground hiphop. Recognized for making raps that are dense in their rhythms and packed with concepts usually found in cultural-theory books, Gift of Gab is a social critic, a formal and organic intellectual, and a futurist. He is also a big fan of Seattle's brand of moody hiphop, which he believes is underused, underappreciated, and more than ready to take its place on the national stage. He recorded his solo CD, Fourth Dimensional Rocketships Going Up, in Seattle (at the Pharmacy, a studio in the Central District) with production work by two local beat creators, Jake One and Vitamin D.
Gift of Gab explains that the collaboration with the local producers began during a tour about a year ago. "Wordsayer [a Seattle hiphop entrepreneur] had come on the road with us [Blackalicious] as a tour manager. And I built a really cool relationship with him. Around that time, I was contemplating doing a solo record, and I knew that Chief Xcel [of Blackalicious] and Lateef [of Latyrx] were about to work on a record together. This was the window of time I needed to do my own thing. So I started looking around for people I wanted to work with." Wordsayer is Jonathan Moore, a founding member of the Jasiri Media Group and a manager for several local acts. "Well, Wordsayer had Vitamin D beats," Gift of Gab explains, "and he would play me stuff. As soon as I heard the CD, I said, 'Okay, these are the beats I want to rhyme on.' And of course Wordsayer is down with Jake One, and I heard his CD and felt the same way."
Early last year, Gift of Gab began to make regular trips to Seattle to record with the producers. The record took about a year to complete, and when it was released earlier this summer it generated impressive commercial and critical results. Fourth Dimensional Rocketships Going Up is nothing like Blackalicious' music, which has a funk that feels raw and sparse, like the old-school hiphop of Kurtis Blow and Spoonie G. Going Up is ultimately more soulful than funky. The bass is often heavy, the drums are always warm, and melodies are intricately designed and richly layered.
When asked what precisely attracted him to the art of Jake One and Vitamin D, Gab says, "The energy. It's the right energy. When I first heard the beat for what became 'Way of the Light,' it just blew me away." Produced by Vitamin D, "Way of the Light," the third track on Going Up, is constructed around the enigmatic loop of an mbira (a gourd-shaped instrument with metal strips that vibrate when plucked) thumbed by the late Dumisani Maraire, a Zimbabwean who lived in Seattle in the '70s and '80s and introduced the region to the sad, spiritual music of his sad, spiritual country. Most attempts to blend African rhythms with hiphop seem forced, like the Jungle Brothers' "Kool Accordin' '2' a Jungle Brother" (they sampled an Afro highlife guitar), but Vitamin D's fusion of the two forms is successful because instead of recognizing and emphasizing the vibrancy of sunny Africa, he focused on the sorrow of the mbira, which is deep and compatible with a Northwest sense of pensive introspection.
"That's what I was looking for," says Gift of Gab. "I don't listen to music the way a producer does. I'm interested in the emotions that a track can bring out. The things it inspires me to think about, or want to say. When I worked with Vitamin D and Jake One, there was a certain chemistry. The music made me say things that I could only say in that situation and not in others."
Three years ago, Chief Xcel of Blackalious found and signed Portland's now much-admired Lifesavas to his and DJ Shadow's label, Quannum. When asked about this growing connection between Quannum and the Northwest, Gift of Gab answers, "With us it's really about whoever is dope. If you are dope then we reach out to you. It's not about where you are from--it just so happens that there is a whole lot of talent in the Northwest that is untapped, and we want to tap it."