Culture writer Greg Tate recently wrote a biting assessment of the state of hip hop for The Village Voice. The piece, which is titled “Hiphop Turns 30 Whatcha Celebratin’ For?” argues that hip hop is nothing more than a money making machine where “brothers are offered stock options in exchange for letting some corporate entity stand next to their fire.” After a recent late-night channel surfing session, I found it hard to argue with Tate’s judgment. One rap video by an artist named Twip whose “Back Drop” clip featured a woman's lower backside being showered by two bottles of vodka especially irked me. The video made me think of Tate's article. “Hiphop Turns 30,” I thought, “Whatcha Celebratin' For?” indeed.
However, the state of an art form is not completely reflected by the culture portrayed on television nor by the songs and videos that corporations decide to be “street legit” enough to fill our airwaves. There are times when undeniably great talents emerge without corporate blessings. But the truth is that music lovers can't simply hope that great talent emerges before them; they need to do their homework to find quality, and to those whose research has brought them to this Web page, I give to you a gift ... the Gift of Gab.
Born with the name Tim Parker, Gab is one half of the rap group Blackalicious, whose 2002 “Blazing Arrow” album was nominated for the coveted Short List prize. In 2004, Gift of Gab joined forces with two Seattle-based producers, Vitamin D and Jake One for Gab's first solo effort, “Fourth Dimensional Rocket Ships Going Up.” As the title implies, the album is an exploration on a path that travels in only one direction: towards the positive. If you want a mindless party, I suggest you pass on boarding this spacecraft, for this trip is reserved only for those interested in Gab's personal journey towards a higher self. The voyage is filled with autobiographical ups and downs, but each tale is boldly told with dignity. We hear about Gab's personal struggles with alcoholism (“Moonshine”), his proud admission of a new found love (“To Know You”), and his quest for spiritual truth (“Way of the Light”). These tunes are laid-back in tone, backed by beats and samples that feel like they were cooked up by one dope deep space DJ. The music serves as the perfect soundtrack for Gab's cosmic journey into his own psyche.
Additionally, for those who shy away from slower, narrative rap, Gab provides hyper drive enabled rhymes that come close to Twista’s dizzying delivery (“Stardust”) and just in case you thought that this MC was a softie, Gab's verbal assault on “Real MCs” will leave you sorry for even thinking that this rapper was weak. Gab saves the most fun for last with the grand finale “Just Because,” which features his less divine, but equally important reason for rapping: “Not because I want a gold or a platinum plaque ... not even because this is how I’m earnin’ my paycheck but just because the sh*t feels good.”
“Fourth Dimensional Rocket Ships Going Up” may not be an evolutionary step in the development of hip hop. Groups like De La Soul and Jurassic 5 have already successfully covered similar territory in the oft-unexplored region of positive rap. But what Gab does so effectively is that he is able to revolve back to the best that rap has to offer and use it as fuel for his own explorations. The resulting record is truly a reason to celebrate.
For more information about Gift of Gab, visit Quannum Projects at: http://www.quannum.com/home.html
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