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Artist: Blackalicious
Album: Nia
Label: Quannum Projects
Production: Chief Xcel, Lyrics Born, DJ Shadow
Guests: Erinn Anova, Lyrics Born, Lateef
Stats: 2000; 19 Tracks at 74mins:14secs
Reviewed by: Eitan Prince

Hip Hop heads regularly lament the eminent death of the culture and the declining credibility of rap music. Every month, or so, No Limit, Ruff Ryders or the Cash Money Millionaires will release an album that fuels fears that the doom of Hip Hop in its Essence and Real is nigh. But out of this matrix of elementary lyrics, casio-tone production and pen and pixel design, we are blessed with artists, who - in their own daring, challenging (or even eccentric) ways - break the commercial shackles and dare to be creative and original.

So far in 2000, those artists are Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel - the MC/producer duo, which comprises Blackalicious - one element of the Quannum collective that includes DJ Shadow and Latyrx. If at this stage Hip Hop is in a state of cardiac arrest, these are the folk most capable of administering CPR.

Forget discussion about whether this album is an instant classic or not. This is simply beautiful music - a product of the harmonious marriage of Gab's voice, flow and lyrics and the musical genius that is Xcel. Just like a eight-layer Mexican dip, there's something for everyone on this album, and yet you will find it hard to ignore the intrigue of its many parts and subtle variations. The album's first single, "Deception" is an up-tempo ditty a la early '90s De La Soul. It features some tasty, bouncy production, while Gab flips a tale about a rapper named 'Cisko', who made it big but lost his artistic credibility and control - a victim of greed: "Now he's dropped from his label, and he's goin' broke/Tried the underground return, ghetto pass revoked". The DJ Shadow produced "Cliff Hanger" is a vivid exploration into narrative that relies as much on Gift of Gab's graphic description, as it does on Shadow's carefully orchestrated collage of cinematic samples. Easily one of the album's innovative highlights - you're not only treated to some fascinating old-school seasoned beats, but also a elaborate tale that is somewhat reminiscent of old 'Indiana Jones' movies.

"If I May" is Blackalicious at their best. Gab's flow is on point; Xcel serves up some feel-good vibes and head-nodding drums, while Latyrx's Lateef, and singer Erinn Anova drop in to add their unique vocal ambience. And if you thought 'sucker MCs' were getting off the hook within all this industrious inventiveness - think again. Gift of Gab lives up to his name on "Reanimation" and "Trouble", leaving you in no doubt that on the mic, he's better than you, you and you ... and yes your moms too.

"Nia" is 74 minutes of musical expression. It will hold your interest from the first note to the last and, just like good sex, contains several moments of pleasure in between. Yet, while I condone safe sex, I do suggest listening to "Nia" without a condom on your mind. [9/10]

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