Yes, I know how late this is. 'NIA' has been floating around on import since late last year, but I've finally stepped up and put it here on Tha-Real. Any reason? Well, it hasn't been in most stores for a while and, simply put, its an awesome album. A little history: Blackalicious are part of the Quannum/Solesides crew (along with DJ Shadow and Latryx) and have released 2 EPs since 1995, garnering quite a following. Gift of Gab (MC) and Chief Xcel (producer) have only now dropped their full length debut, the one I'm reviewing.
'NIA' has a unique but familiar sound, and a good comparison point would be Mos Def's 'Black on Both Sides.' Aside from the few breaks in the style like DJ Shadow's innovative work on 'Cliff Hanger,' Chief Xcel's beats are lush and layered, but have a good range between the calm, mellow feel of 'Sleep' and the up-tempo grooves of 'You Didn't Know That Though.' The majority lay in a happy medium of sorts, resulting in beautiful instrumentals such as 'If I May' and 'Making Progress.' As a whole 'NIA' shows the strength of album produced almost entirely by a single artist, with each track sounding suitably unique but still fitting into the LP as a whole.
And of course, there's the not-so-small matter of the MCing. Gift of Gab comes off on most of these tracks dope, with a delivery that sounds like a west coast Black Thought. In case you couldn't guess, his flow is bananas. Lyrically he also is fresh, with a heap of quotables and verbal mastery that'll leave you stunned. Subject matter flips between the entertaining wordplay Gab shows off on tracks such as 'A To G' to the warning tales of 'Deception' and the uplifting words of 'Making Progress.' Simply put, Gift of Gab comes off just as well on 'NIA' as Chief Xcel and the two put all of this collective dopeness into each and every one of the 18 tracks.
But I've hardly scratched the surface of what 'NIA' has to offer. More Mos Def comparisons could be leveled at the many of the more soulful tracks, where Gift of Gab and the talented guests that appear all over this record croon out tunes with all their heart. Just check the collabo with Lyrics Born, 'Do This My Way,' or Erinn Anova's contributions to the excellent 'As The World Turns,' which might just be my favorite track on this superlative release. Also of note is 'Ego Trip,' an intriguing spoken word joint by female poet Nikki Giovanni (The Roots similarities come back).
As you can guess by this less than objective review, I like 'NIA' very much. As a man unfamiliar with most of Quannum's work (although I do enjoy the odd bit of DJ Shadow), Blackalicious are a very refreshing surprise for me. The production and the emceeing are both impeccable, and the album works together in a delightful manner. Easily the best album of 2000 so far, 'NIA' is a truly great record which I encourage each and every one of you to go and pick up.