Blackalicious: Blazing Arrow

Blackalicious: Blazing Arrow

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Blackalicious

Album: Blazing Arrow
Label: MCA

Blackalicious' 2000 debut, Nia, established the duo as a leading light of West Coast hip-hop's neo-bohemian underground, but it only hinted at the brilliance of Blazing Arrow. Sgt. Pepper's to Nia's Revolver, Blazing Arrow finds aptly named lyricist Gift Of Gab and producer Chief XCel perfecting the adventurous humanism of its full-length debut, condensing decades of black music into 17 tracks that each sound like separate-but-related sonic universes. The album begins with the rare intro that doesn't seem superfluous, and from there is limited only by the boundaries of Gift Of Gab's vast imagination. Blackalicious finds apocalypse in contemporary society's amorality in "Sky Is Falling," but the rest of the disc is permeated by optimism and hope so radiant that it almost seems to come from another, better world. "Feel That Way" embodies the life-affirming qualities of a perfect summer single, and it's nicely complemented by "First In Flight," which resurrects Gil Scott-Heron to joyous, transcendent effect. "Release" cheekily relegates superstar Zack de la Rocha to hype-man duty while giving Saul Williams the star treatment, compressing more imagination, intelligence, and ideas into nine and a half minutes than most albums do in 75. Sounding just about perfect the first time around yet better with each listen, Blazing Arrow is a masterpiece of craft and vision on par with Mos Def's Black On Both Sides, The Roots' Things Fall Apart, and Quasimoto's The Unseen. Major labels have been rightly criticized for exploiting artists and appealing to the lowest common denominator, but if MCA's deep pockets allow it to expose Blazing Arrow to a mainstream audience, the world will be a better place for it.