Blackalicious got a taste of big-screen glory when their song "Make You Feel That Way" was featured in the 2002 flick "Brown Sugar." And the duo's Gift of Gab is aiming high for the next one.
" 'Star Wars,' " he said, heedless of the fact that there's not supposed to be another film in the franchise. "We'd have to make a sci-fi song, but that'd be fun."
The theme continues as the group discusses their first meeting, which happened "light years ago" when they both were students at Sacramento, California's John F. Kennedy High School. According to MC Chief Xcel, they didn't like each other at first, but after arguing over whether Too Short or Ice Cube was the better rapper, they warmed and eventually began Blackalicious while Xcel was attending the University of California at Davis.
"My sophomore year, Gab moved up to Davis and we did 'Melodica,' our first record," Xcel recalled. "It didn't get released until '93, and around that same time we started SoleSides, which is the label that later became Quannum. [Label co-founder] Jeff Chang had a radio show, and Lyrics Born and myself used to go to the show every Thursday with DJ Shadow. Jeff was really the catalyst, he was like, 'You guys are all doing your thing independently, we might as well try to pool our resources.' So we pooled together all our little student-loan checks and put out our first 12-inch [single], and from there it just snowballed."
Although Blackalicious still co-own Quannum Projects (their 2002 album, Blazing Arrow, was released on major MCA), the group has taken its fifth LP, The Craft, to another indie: West Coast heavyweight Anti/ Epitaph Records.
"We wanted to be in a place, firstly, that was well-funded," Xcel said. "And secondly, [a place] where it was really not corporate. I wanted to be in a place where I didn't have to deal with the politics and the bureaucracy. Anti/ Epitaph is a big independent and they've been consistently successful, so it felt good."
And they've brought Anti their "most focused work yet," one that includes guest spots from George Clinton and Floetry, and stories drawn from their family's lives.
"My favorite song on the album is called 'The Fall and Rise of Elliott Brown, " Xcel said. "It's about a young man in the streets hustling and getting caught up. It's loosely based on the life of my godbrother: He ends up going to prison, he finds himself and gets in touch with his spirituality. And it completely turns his life around."
Meanwhile, "Diamonds and Pearls" was inspired by Gab's niece.
"It's about what kids are up against today," Gab said. "It's three verses but two stories: One is about a pregnant teen, this was inspired by my niece. She had a couple of kids when she was real young and had to face a lot of challenges. And the second verse is about a male who's mother is on crack but he sells crack and he supplies it to her, so he's caught up in that situation."
Considering the Oakland, California-based duo's conscious-leaning music (not to mention the "Star Wars" talk), some might characterize their music as nerd rap.
"I'm a battle lyricist first," Gab said with a laugh, "so if anyone thinks that our music is nerd rap just because it's not on no gangsta sh--, then let's take it to the stage." He asserted that the new album has a "more humorous side."
"' Side 2 Side' is about trying to meet a woman in the club," he said. "And we also got to work with George Clinton on a song called 'Lotus Flower.' It was a trip, because when he put his first layer down, it sounded awkward. We asked, 'You wanna do that over?' and he was like, 'I meant to do that.' By the time he got finished with all his layers, it was a masterpiece."
Blackalicious will hit the road later this summer, beginning in Europe and touring the U.S. before heading over to Japan and Australia. The Craft drops on September 27.