Album: Blazing Arrow
Rating: 9 / 10
Reviewer: B Dids
About 4 years ago my man applesauce (don’t look at me – he doesn’t capitalize it) sent me a tape. He said something to the effect of “I’ve made this tape for people before, and I’ve told them it might be the best piece of music they own”. The tape had Siah and Yeshua daPO Ed’s “The Vizuals” on one side, and Blackalicious’s “Melodica” on the other. Turns out he was right. I still treasure that tape (well, I treasure the second one he sent me – because the first one got jacked from out my car a few months after I got it). Setting aside Siah and Yesh (which I don’t do easily), “Melodica” was an amazing album (OK – EP really – but who’s counting). Funky beats, amazing lyrics – great fusion between the MC and the producer. It left me yearning for more work from the duo.
So a few years later they dropped the “A2G” EP. Not as consistently good as “Melodica”, but still damn impressive. Then something odd happened. For their first full album – they used the few lame tracks off “A2G”, and made a shockingly mediocre album. “Nia” was short on something. I liked it a lot when it first dropped – but after a while I’d put it in, and then realize that I just skipped through over half the tracks. I couldn’t really tell you what was wrong, but both the production and MC work just seemed lacking.
Well… that’s been fixed now.
“Blazing Arrow” has in 5000 gallon buckets what was missing from “Nia”… funk – lots and lots of funk. Chief XL not only fixed what had broken, he improved the formula and made an even better record than “Melodica.” The beats on this album are just amazing. It’s so charged, so infused with energy, so damn bumpy… people riding in cars next to me for the past week probably wondered how somebody with a neck twitch that bad could keep his car on the road. When the production suits him, Gift of Gab becomes the most energetic, powerful, charismatic MC out there, and on this record, everything is right up his alley.
The thing that amazed me about this album was just how poppy it is. ‘Aural Pleasure’ (which to my ear is the best song on the album) has a beat that sounds like it could have been produced by Kay-Gee from Naughty by Nature (which isn’t a bad thing – NBN had dope beats) and an R&B hook (that ain’t right – call it a “soul hook”). Things that might make a grizzled, Cannibal Ox-loving indie head like me run for the hills in fear. However, it ends up being this incredibly infectious tune. Vocal hooks pop up on the album left and right. I think usually there’s backlash against hooks like this because they tend to be a cheap way to give a song pop appeal, or a softer edge. In this case, things fuse together so well – the hooks just belong in the song – nothing feels forced, or added on for effect.
The song that will get a lot of attention is ‘Release’, a nine and a half minute cut that seems more like a trilogy of dope pieces. It starts off with Gift of Gab bombing, as per usual, on the pounding keys of the track – as Zach de la Rocha (late of Rage Against The Machine) screams in the background, (and it works – and I’m somebody who is NOT a fan of Zach)… then winds down into a long spoken word piece from Saul Williams, and then the beat kicks back in, welcoming Lyrics Born to the album (his only appearance – which is a shame) and then finally – Gab steps in and closes things down. It’s one of those songs that I wish we’d hear more of from hip-hop. Something a little unconventional, maybe a little long and winding – but entertaining. ‘First In Flight’ and ‘Purest Love’ both push the bubblegum boundaries – but in a very good way. Pop music maybe, but pop music for people with taste.
There’s a couple down moments. ‘Make You Feel That Way’ – while a decent song, is far too reminiscent of the problems that existed on Nia”. Just a touch too drab – and Gab’s flow gets locked into the same pattern too easily. ‘Chemical Calisthenics’ is this album’s answer to ‘Alphabet Aerobics.’ Yes, we get it – Gab can rap really, really, really fast – and it’s impressive, but unlike its precursor, it forgot to actually be a good song. It’s worth one listen and a “wow”, but beyond that, skippable.
Still – that’s about all the negativity I can conjure up. In a lot of ways, this is an album I’ve been waiting for for a long time. I’ve felt like a lot of the fun got sucked out of hip-hop. What little hip-hop these days that doesn’t take itself too seriously has ended up being, in most part, crap. That’s why this album is so gratifying. It’s fun, it’s meaningful, it’s a party album, it’s the vibe that I used to love from De La Soul, Tribe, and Digital Underground – but with a sound all to itself.