It's no coincidence that Blackalicious have called their magnificent new release The Craft. The album -- the Oakland hip-hop duo's fifth -- is so dense, and so dazzlingly full of rhythmic, melodic and lyrical ideas, that listeners are virtually forced to focus on and marvel at the way it was created.
"The Craft is about being a vessel for creative energy," explained Blackalicious MC Gift Of Gab over the phone from Oakland, "however you're expressing yourself to the world."
Gift Of Gab and producer/beatmaker Chief Xcel started their own label, Quannum Projects, in Oakland in 1991, and have worked with such West Coast hip-hop innovators as Lateef The Truth Speaker and DJ Shadow, as well as putting out numerous projects of their own. They are creative partners in the best sense of the word, relying on each other's strengths and rolling musical ideas back and forth until they're both satisfied with the results.
"We're both extremely prolific and constantly creating -- it's, like, second nature," said Gab, who also released a solo album, Fourth Dimensional Rocketships Going Up, last year. "But about two years ago we started formulating ideas and putting songs together for this album, and a year ago we really hit our stride.
"You always have a vision for a record, and then it morphs into something else. You have to mold it, like you're doing pottery, until the shape is there."
Guests on the album include Femi Kuti keyboardist Herve Salters -- who will also accompany them on tour -- funk master George Clinton, Lateef, Floetry and singer KWEEN.
"Xcel brought in musicians from all over the world, had them play for days and took the pieces that moved him the most, them chopped them up and made skeleton songs for me," said Gab. "And then I wrote the lyrics and put down my vocals."
One of Gab's lyrics goes, "Some rappers make good records but live they are a failure" -- and he is determined not to fall into that trap.
"We put a lot into our live show -- I think as much as we put into our records, because that's the other half of the package. The thing about us is that we love to perform. It's one of the greatest feelings in the world, being on stage performing."
Check them out tonight at the Mod Club.
HOLY MICROPHONE!: Also tonight, local pop-rock outfit Holy Microphone -- which contains one Chicken and two Knockout Pills and used to be called Hannah -- releases its debut CD, Goodbye Television Girl, at the Horseshoe. The Exchanges are also on the bill.