Followers of the influential hip-hop duo Blackalicious waited a decade for new material by Gift of Gab (Timothy Parker) and Chief Xcel (Xavier Mosley). Their last LP, “The Craft,” came out in 2005. Mosley says he and Parker’s work have been fueled by life, not an incessant need or obligation to produce albums.
“Pretty soon you’re putting out records, without having anything to really say,” he adds, “and we never wanted to be in that position in any way, shape or form.”
Blackalicious albums are known for compelling lyrics and dialogue surrounding social justice. The duo reached a point in their careers where they felt they said all they could say creatively at the time.
“We really wanted to go and explore new directions, with the intention of always coming back and doing more records,” Mosley says. “Our records have been internally driven, but externally inspired. . . We just have this internal clock where we know it’s time to get back to work.”
They reunited in the studio to produce “Imani Vol. 1,” released in 2015, and are currently back on tour. The duo will open for Morgan Heritage at Ziggy’s by the Sea in downtown Wilmington on Sat., Feb. 27.
“Imani Vol. 1” is one of three volumes in a series Blackalicious plans to release over the next couple of years. It continues along the path of storytelling and building dialogue around current issues. For example, “On Fire Tonight” and its music video, pinpoints and condemns police brutality. It’s also one part of a larger work, the first of a series of videos.
Directed by James Connelly, the video incorporates footage from the Ferguson and Baltimore protests, along with disturbing images of police killings from around the United States. The song and video are meant to be somewhat of a time capsule, with Mosley and Parker as narrators.
“There’s three different dimensions to [‘On Fire Tonight’]: one being the past, one being the present and one being the future,” Mosley explains.
Singer Myron Glasper and his performance acts as a throwback to the Soul Train era, while images of protests are the present, and black women viewing it all from space represent the future. “It’s the kind of song where we could have gone supper literal with it,” Mosley says. “We really wanted to delve in deeper creatively with it.”
Mosley says their journey in the music industry is much like a pendulum, swinging back and forth to a point where it all becomes about timing and synchronicity. There’s so much going on in the world now to incorporate into their work, it was simply time to come back together.
“Artists are becoming catalysts for people’s voices and people are ready to hear artists say what they think and what they feel,” he continues. “You can only talk about surface-level stuff for so long until it just becomes disposable. People need music and art that can help them have a perspective and analyze the world around them.”
For Mosley and Parker, each record acts like its own song, working together as a seamless story. In reality the album comprises 16 individual songs. Interludes have become an integral part to the overall tapestry of each record. “Imani Vol. 1” has several interludes, one of which “I Am” leads into “Inspired By.” It’s a series of poetic affirmations spoken by members of the Irving family from Portland, Oregon—of whom Mosley is the godfather of the Irving daughters. It starts with Indigo and Isis Irving:
“I am inspired by my sisters and my best friends … My sisters are my best friends and inspire me to be comfortable and confident in my own skin, and they make me feel truly beautiful.”
“I am inspired by people who overcome things like depression or loneliness, and they still strive their happiness and their dreams and their goals and are willing to inspire others with their stories . . .”
They are joined by their mother, grandmother and grandfather, as well as the youngest of the three daughters, Imon, who closes: “Music inspires me to keep going and try my hardest, and know that everything is going to be OK.”
Rhyme Junkie named “Imani Vol. 1” one of the most overlooked albums of 2015. However, Mosley isn’t deterred or even surprised, as he says one of their greatest records to date, “Alphabet Aerobics,” just blew up in sales in 2014. “We made that record 15 years ago,” he tells. “At the end of the day, listeners just want something that moves and inspires them.”
Mosley says he and Parker are in top form musically, despite Parker’s personal battle with kidney disease. Parker’s even waiting for a kidney transplant.
“Gift of Gab is really a force of nature,” Mosley adds. “To be able to see him have to do what he has to do physically every single day between dialysis and all that goes along with that, and still perform onstage and in the studio at the most prolific period of his career, you can’t help but be inspired by that. You can’t help but be driven by that.”
Blackalicious is working on “Vol. 2” right now and hope to have it ready for release by 2017.
“Our records are never really finished until they’re actually out in the listener’s hands and ears,” Mosley says. “We’re always tweaking and right now, we’re knee-deep in ‘Vol. 2.’ It’s never a conscious thing of let’s do this or let’s do that . . . for us we just get in, explore a little bit and see where it takes us. We can never really predict the process.”
See Blackalicious with Morgan Heritage at Ziggy’s by the Sea in downtown Wilmington on Saturday, Feb. 27. Doors open at 7 p.m. and show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.