Blazing Arrow

Blackalicious

MCA Records, 2002

http://blackalicious.com

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/22/2003

For Blackalicious' major-label debut, members Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel recruited some of the most prolific and promising artists in hip-hop as well as rock. The amazing thing is Blackalicious' lyrical and studio skills are so solid that even with high profile guests such as Ben Harper, Zach De La Rocha and members of The Roots, a listener's attention seldom wavers from the Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel.

Blazing Arrow may be considered a debut album, but Blackalicious members are anything but rookies; the group has released three underground albums and spent more than 10 years playing clubs. Who says underground is just one mode?" the band asks in the head-bobbing "4000 miles." Blackalicious bucks this perception by adding elements of rock, R&B and soul throughout my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Blazing Arrow.

Some artists pass themselves off as prolific by trying to incorporate as many different musical elements as they can into their work. However, this doesn't mean anything if an artist can't pull off the genre switch. Blackalicious need not worry with Blazing Arrow. "Aural Pleasure" has the soulful groove that has evaded Prince for a dozen or so releases. "First in Flight" has the funk of vintage Isaac Hayes, and most of the lyrics on the album come close to rivaling the political bombast of old-school Public Enemy.

Blackalicious shares much of the enthusiasm and positivity of Public Enemy when it comes to social consciousness. Oddly enough, their positivity is one of the chief blasts I have read against the album. Apparantly rapping about the joys of graduation didn't cut it for some critics. However, there's plenty of gritty realism spread throughout Blazing Arrow. The chief message throughout the album: life's struggles may be hard, but it is through these hardships where people feel the most alive. The most ambitious track on Blazing Arrow is the nine-minute epic "Release." The song features Zach De La Rocha on the chorus, but the song is divided into three parts. The most stunning part of "Release" comes midway through when acclaimed poet Saul Williams contributes a stinging poem under a restrained beat.

In 1992, Xcel befriended DJ Shadow at the University of California. Shadow eventually would go on to record Endtroducing, one of the landmark albums of the 1990s. Although Blackalicious has not achieved the critical recognition of DJ Shadow or the commercial success of The Roots as of yet, Blazing Arrow should change this. At seventeen tracks, this album contains little filler. The clever, rapid-fire lyrics of Gift of Gab and the infectiousness of most of the tracks should find a home in many a car stereo for summers to come.

Two thousand two was supposed to be a year when Eminem, The Roots and Jurassic Five would duke it out for album of the year honors. With the release of Blazing Arrow, that race got a lot more interesting. You may not see them on MTV, but Blazing Arrow is a musical journey worth taking at a record store near you.

Rating: A-

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© 2003 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of MCA Records, and is used for informational purposes only.