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"We're older, we're wiser, we're more mature," MC Gift of Gab (nee Timothy Parker) says of Imani, Vol. 1, Blackalicious' first new album in a decade. "It's better now, because we've grown as people and artists."
"Each one of these records is a chapter in our lives, and we put our complete heart and soul into it," agrees Gab's longtime musical partner, CJ/producer Chief Xcel (aka Xavier Mosley). "We live these records."
Imani, Vol. 1 lives up to the beloved California-bred duo's hard-won reputation as one of hip-hop's most progressive, forward-thinking creative forces. Acclaimed for the sublime combination of Gab's verbal dexterity and lyrical eloquence, and X's bracing beats and distinctive soundscapes, Blackalicious has earned widespread respect, both inside and outside of the hip-hop community, for the wildly inventive, personally charged innovations of its first three albums, 1999's Nia, 2002's Blazing Arrow and 2005's The Craft.
Three years in the making, Imani, Vol. 1—the first of a projected trilogy to be released over the course of two years—is perhaps Blackalicious' most ambitious and accomplished effort to date, maintaining the spirituality, introspection and positivity that are the twosome's trademarks, while making it clear that their musical vision and creative drive remain as strong as ever.
Although Imani, Vol. 1 is driven by Gift of Gab's uplifting verbal sophistication and Chief Xcel's expansive sonic sensibility, which are as distinctive as ever on such riveting tracks as "On Fire Tonight," "Escape," The Sun," "We Did It Again" and the epic "Alpha and Omega."
The pair is joined by such guest performers as Afro-pop diva Zap Mama, who's featured on the title track; Amde Hamilton of legendary '60s rap progenitors the Watts Prophets on the album-opener "Faith," eclectic singer-songwriter Imani Coppola on "The Sun," underground hip-hop duo LifeSavas on "That Night," neo-blues auteur Fantastic Negrito on "Love's Gonna Save the Day," Myron of retro-soulsters Myron & E on "On Fire Tonight," and the all-star hip-hop combo of Lateef, Lyrics Born, Monophonics and DJ D Sharp on "Alpha and Omega."
Imani—whose title is the Swahili word for "faith"—is a particularly personal project for Blackalicious, with its title reflecting the personal trials that helped to inspire the words and music.
"Faith has been a big word in both of our lives in the last couple of years," Gift of Gab affirms. "We both dealt with some personal situations that really required faith and forced us to think about a lot of things. Most of our albums are about where we are at that point in our lives, and that's definitely true on this one."