I have to apologize to Blackalicious in advance. I am going to attempt to write something meaningful about the long awaited Imani Vol. 1. This should not be a problem, were it not for the fact that Gift of Gab slams rap critics on one of the first tracks of the album. So, sorry, El Gifto Magnifico, but this is what I do.
I can safely say that music wise 2015 was about two releases for me so far. Two nerve wrecking moments because clearly they meant make or break time. D’Angelo passed the test with glory, delivering not only the best modern soul album of the year but perhaps in a decade or even since his last release. Ever since ‘Black Messiah’ dropped I’ve been waiting for Imani Vol. 1. To me, Blackalicious are a crucial factor in keeping my faith in modern Hip Hop so this one HAD to be memorable.
The duo leaked ‘On fire tonight’ and ‘Blacka’ prior to the release of the album. Pure fire. The tracks raised my probably already pretty impossible expectations of Imani Vol.1. The good news is: I am only somewhat disappointed and here is why.
Blackalicious are innovators. To me, there’s a handful mc’s (at most) capable of rhyming like Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel is a delightful beatsmith. Tracks like ‘Make you feel that way’, ‘Chemical Calisthenics’ and of course the ridiculously brilliant ‘Alphabet Aerobics’ have shaped Hip Hop for me. So why am I – I repeat: only somewhat – disappointed? Because I don’t always sense that cutting edge leadership I heard on previous albums. Some tracks like ‘Ashes’ (‘Put your arms in the air and feet on the floor’) and ‘Love’s Gonna Save the Day’ are somewhat generic. It’s never a torture to sit through a Blackalicious track but these two tracks clearly don’t reach their potential to me. They almost seem too easy. But Gift and Chief need to make a buck too, so it’s probably not realistic to ask for an album filled with true gems for the hardcore fan. Maybe, just maybe, volume 2 or volume 3 will be the album for the fan since day one. In my opinion ‘Inspired by’ is the only track that is really sub standard because…. really, autotune s***? T-Pain could have made that. Drake could have made that. Blacka are so much better than this.
However: there is plenty of compensation. I already mentioned ‘On fire tonight’ and ‘Blacka’ which are instant classics to me, but there are other highlights too. ‘That night’ is an excellent example of Chief’s crafty beat producing abilities and ‘The Sun’ and ‘We did it again’ are down right catchy. In a good way, mind you. Of course you will hear Gabby T’s storytelling abilities throughout the album (on tracks like ‘Escape’ for example), although in that regard true gems like ‘Cliffhanger’ are not to be found on Imani Vol. 1. Still Gift is light years ahead of virtually every new school rapper in every way. Especially when he brings the fury, he is just so damn impressive. ‘I like the way you talk’ is a prime example of that. When he’s got his vibe, Gift of Gab can play with rhythm like no other. His timing, word play and seemingly effortless tongue twisters confirm his status as one of Hip Hop’s top cats. Combine that with Chief’s musicality and it results in true old school bangers like ‘The BlowUp’ and ‘IMANI’.
All in all Blackalicious have delivered a good album that gives us reason to look out for the next volumes. There is more coming and Blackalicious should not keep us waiting this time. Imani Vol. 1 is not legendary as I had hoped it to be but it is pretty damn good and some tracks have earned a permanent spot on my playlist.