Blackalicious brings two decades of NIA to Ardmore - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

Originally released in October of 1999, Sacramento rap duo Blackalicious‘ debut album NIA (*Swahili for “purpose”) is a philosophical proof of concept and a tone-setter for a decades-long career in underground hip-hop. Originally gaining attention as members of the famed Solesides / Quannum collective, rapper Gift of Gab and DJ / producer Chief Xcel’s early releases like 1993’s Melodica EP found the duo carving out a niche of colorful, soulful beats and nimble, verbose rhymes. NIA would expand on that formula, cementing the group’s place as hip-hop innovators and mainstays.

Opening with “Searching”, a beautiful spoken-word piece featuring Erinn Anova, the album presents us with drifting psychedelic guitars and flute that play gently with piano chords and jazz drums to create a pristine, uplifting groove. Gab and Anova recite their lines in unison, speaking on life’s challenges and our collective desire for spiritual growth. Like much of NIA, “Searching” draws a clear connection between hip-hop and the jazz-poetry of 70s Black Power icons like Nikki Giovanni (who appears on the album) and Gil Scott Heron, who the group would collaborate with later on their second album Blazing Arrow.

In clear contrast to the tone set by the album’s opener, “Fabulous Ones” finds the duo rocking over a funky, party-rocking groove. With songs like “Shallow Days,” “Deception,” “As The World Turns” and others, NIA pairs thoughtful rhymes and utterly gorgeous production. 20 years later, the album’s sounds and themes still resonate, each full of clever musicality and rich emotion.

On Sunday, January 26th, Blackalicious will perform at the Ardmore Music Hall. Supported by Philly rhyme titans Ai-Que and Reef The Lost Cauze, Gift of Gab and Chief XCel come to town in celebration of the 20th Anniversary of NIA. The last 20 years may have taken Hip Hop into some weird, exciting and at times depressing places but it’s heartening to see one of the great rap acts of our time still working and still living out their purpose.

Tickets and more information on Blackalicious’ Ardmore Music Hall concert can be found here.
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