Release Date: Sep 18, 2015
Record label: !K7
There’s a moment about 20 minutes into Blackalicious’s fourth LP, Imani Vol. 1, where the beats fade, the rhymes fall out, and a swelling murmur of spoken voices takes over the mix. The speakers are kids and adults, giving soundbites about inspiration (”I am inspired by my sisters and my best friends,” “my children inspire me,” etc.) over a grainy piano loop.
For better or worse, the tag "alternative rap" comes with many connotations: this rap subverts mainstream politics; this rap has a message; this rap is different; this is #RealHipHop. It’s often a distinction used by rap elitists and purists to separate rap with a supposed intellectual bent from the rap they consider low brow or obtuse. It can be an ugly, divisive term, one that stands at the center of rap’s greatest schism; it has been a defining label in many rap class wars.
In 2005, people were still buzzing about a speech that a soon-to-be Illinois senator gave to the Democratic National Convention. It was electrifying enough to have some speculating that this energizing figure could be a serious contender in the 2016 presidential race. That same year, Kanye West was making headlines… by releasing one of the most acclaimed albums of that decade with Late Registration.
In 2012, Gift of Gab, the MC half of this veteran hip-hop duo, suffered kidney failure during the recording of the group’s comeback record. His convalescence was lengthy and necessitated daily dialysis. Three years later, the record arrives, and it’s suffused with a sense of gratitude. Inspired By describes a journey from youthful aspiration to a career “guiding spirits to the truth”.
Blackalicious, "Imani, Vol. 1." Blackalicious, "Imani, Vol. 1." As part of the Solesides label and hip-hop collective (later known as Quannum) that launched out of Northern California in the '90s with DJ Shadow, Latyrx and others, Blackalicious was all about inclusiveness. They saw themselves as part of an African-American continuum, musical torch-bearers who honored tradition even as they pushed into an uncertain future.
As rap progresses through middle age, coping mechanisms among veterans still in the game have been mixed: Some gloat about their success like nothing has changed (Jay Z); some have gotten nostalgic about their breakout years (Eminem); some have deliberately shed any semblance of an edge (Wu-Tang Clan). Amid a surge in cultural relevance the past few years—including a sample on a Rae Sremmurd track, Macklemore’s crediting them for major inspiration, and Daniel Radcliffe rapping “Alphabet Aerobics” on The Tonight Show—Blackalicious’ return after a decade-long hiatus was fraught with such potential comeback pitfalls and more. Thankfully, Imani, Vol.