FEATURE: Blackalicious “We had the same vision for the type of hip hop we wanted to make.”

After trials and tribulations getting through to Blackalicious rapper Tim Parker (Gift Of Gab as he prefers to be known), I anxiously ask “is now a good time?”

“Er…No!” comes a booming response. The resultant silence is deadly. Unsure how to respond, the bumbling Brit in me feebly offered to try calling back later. Suddenly a cackle of laughter rings out down the phone, “only kidding, I was expecting this call.” Parker is in an infectiously good mood and the stilted start blossoms into a bizarre conversation in which Parker proves a master of question aversion.

For those who aren’t in the know, Blackalicious are an independent hip hop duo; Parker is joined by Xavier Mosley (or Chief Xcel – whichever takes your preference!), who since forming in the late 80s have gone on to release three full-length albums as well as balancing equally successful side projects.

“We discovered the same love for hip hop
and the same type of hip hop.”

Whilst there are some things Parker is happy to share, there are others that are clearly touchy subjects. Rather insistently, he informs me that at the start “I just wanted to make a record. I just wanted to put an album out,” a softer side shows through as he concedes, “it has been a blessing to still be doing it.” It is this split personality that resounds throughout our ten minute conversation. One place Parker is happy to revisit is the early years. He recalls their early years with a real warmth, “at that point we were just fans. It was a great time for Hip Hop. We were listening to De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, NWA. We discovered the same love for hip hop and the same type of hip hop.” It was not just a mutual love of the genre that united Parker and Mosley, but rather a desire to further explore it for themselves. Parker continues, “at the same time I was rapping and X was producing. We had the same vision for the type of hip hop we wanted to make. At that point, we just wanted to create some music and put it out. Just to be heard.”

Though their experimentation started at the end of the eighties, it was not till a decade later that the duo released their 1999 debut album “Nia”. Speedy production is never a good thing and the pair decided to take their time, ensuring that the product was right. Having announced at a solo show back in June that a follow-up to 2005’s “The Craft” is underway, it felt like safe territory to enquire about the progress. When asked if a new album is expected soon, the short sharp “Yes” comes as a surprising cut-off answer.

After a little more probing, Parker reveals “my next solo record will be released the first quarter of next year. Blackalicious are working on a record as well, which is out at the end of next year.” Whilst earlier he had freely admitted to being inspired by the likes of De La Soul and NWA, an easy ‘what inspires you now’ type question goes unanswered. A second attempt sees “can you define your current sound?” pushed aside, before the hesitant response “I don’t know if I could define it. It is my expression of everything that is influencing and inspiring me right now. It is hard to describe my own shit from my own perspective.”

“As long as you are pushing yourself to be a better artist,
that is the only thing I live for.”

For an established artist, Parker is somewhat closed to intrusion on his creative terrain. Whilst he happily delivers “music works like life. Songs are ideas,” anything more direct is met with abrupt distractions. So if he doesn’t like questions about his output, what is it that inspires to keep going? Suddenly an open book, he almost chirps “the love of art. The love of hip hop. It is never-ending. Art is never-ending. As long as you are hungry. As long as you are pushing yourself to be a better artist, that is the only thing I live for.” The infectious laugh returns as he realises he may have got a little carried away. Correcting himself, he states “well it is not the only thing I love for, but it one of the things I live for.”

Having not lost the love of hip hop, Parker is a passionate performer. He proudly boasts “we’ve been doing this now for 20 years. We are kind of veterans. You learn as you go. You learn what moves the crowd and what doesn’t move the crowd.” It is in his positivity that the appeal shines through. Having realised it is ok to be open, he lets me in the secret of a good performer, “I think when it comes to a live show, it is about captivating an audience from start to finish. It is taking them on a journey like you would with an album. When you make an album, you want them to feel like they have had an experience. A live show is the same.”

Words: Jeremy Williams

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