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Blackalicious's power comes through perseverance and collaboration

Rapper and Producer headline Pemberton dance party Two Acre Shaker on Aug. 16



Chief Xcel, one half of Bay Area rap duo Blackalicious, says that bringing out three full albums in the next 18 months or so is a "natural" output level for them.

Their new album, Emoni Vol. 1, is complete and soon to be released.

"We're working on the second and the third volumes. At any given time, we're usually writing and working on five to 10 songs at once. For this process we recorded 50 to 60 songs so far. We go wherever the creativity takes us," the DJ and producer says.

Blackalicious was formed in the early 1990s, but Chief Xcel (Xavier Mosley) and Gift of Gab (Timothy Parker) met several years earlier, at John F. Kennedy High School in Sacramento, Calif.

Xcel says he is the "music department" while rapper Gift of Gab provides the lyrics.

"It's not interchangeable. Each song is its own thing. Most of our songs tend to lean on the more conceptual kind of side. As a result, each song is its own portrait," Xcel says. "As we work on them, some things come to completion in a day, some take five or six months before they are done."

Blackalicious headlines the seventh-annual and final Two Acre Shaker, Pemberton's one-night dance and music party on Saturday, Aug. 16. This is the final year for the event, which has been organized by friends Pat McKinnon, Kirk Becker and Lon Flath since 2008.

The theme of Emoni is in its name, which means "safe" in Swahili.

"It really deals a lot on the power of perseverance. Our records tend to evolve around where we're at in our lives, so that theme is one that encapsulated a lot of aspects of the last four to five years... Our first full-length album was entitled Nia and that was Swahili for the word 'purpose'," Xcel explains.

"We really try to make our body of work as cohesive as we can, so the listener can really connect the dots from one record to another."

Xcel didn't want to be drawn on what it was about their lives that led Blackalicious to explore the themes of being safe and safety.

"A lot of that I don't want to give away because I want it to come out with the record," he says.

"One of things I've learned over the course of my career is the power of the universality of music and that you can be talking about one concept but 10 different people may apply that concept in 10 different ways, depending on what they're going through."

Xcel says one of the greatest payoffs he and Gift of Gab get from their music is when their fans tell them it helped them through tough times.

"They say, 'I was going through this. I was going through that. I put your song on and it helped me a little bit through the course of the day," Xcel says.

He understands that this is powerful.

"Power and responsibility," he says. "It's a gift that I never, ever take for granted. It's a gift that's extremely humbling and that I am really grateful for."

On a personal level, Gift of Gab has been on a long search for a kidney donor. The last time Blackalicious performed in Whistler, 18 months ago, he was hopeful in finding one soon. But the search continues.

"He's still on the list. He's really inspiring, man. (His experience) is partially what this record is about, his process through this. One of the things that he's done and has been really phenomenal at is showing people that even faced with what he's been faced with, big challenges, he continues to thrive," Xcel says.

"And not only does he continue to thrive, he is creating at one of the highest levels of his career, both output-wise and quality-wise, I would say. He's a force of nature, man. I'm always inspired."

Xcel ruminates on how long he has known his friend and collaborator.

"Wow, we've been working together 26 years. We continue to push each other. There are very few people that I've worked with over the course of my career that have been able to see themselves as a kind of instrument within the soundscapes that I make," Xcel says.

"I know that I can give him a wide array of musical sounds and styles and directions, and he will listen to what the music is calling for. Creatively, we always tend to challenge each other and push each other because of that."

And Xcel sees that output of music as a part of a connected thread down the years that keeps it cohesive.

"Some people, they'll get in a zone where they feel like they have to constantly recreate themselves and reinvent themselves," he says.

"But I see it as something I try to explore deeper. You're always learning new ways to do things. I try to build my creative house off that foundation. It's constantly expanding and elevating but at the same time there will be a certain core."


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