BLACKALICIOUS: I’M DEFINITELY DISSECTING IT
Oakland hip-hop duo Blackalicious started out stickering test presses outside college radio conventions and went on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies of their debut album Nia on their own label Quannum Projects. Their most recent full-length is The Craft, released this fall on Anti. Gift of Gab was not available for an interview but producer Chief Xcel speaks from somewhere where a lot of phones are ringing in the background.
Did you really meet Gift of Gab in home ec class?
Yeah, but it wasn’t home ec like cooking and cleaning–it was more like actual economics. They were teaching kids how to do budgets, how mortgages work–all that kind of stuff.
Do you remember anything useful from that class?
That was the basics–you always use the basics, and you build off that.
You said in an interview that there’s always an artist or a record that teaches you something you’ve never heard before–who did you mean?
I’m always learning from David Axelrod–listening to his records. And I’m always learning from Lincoln Olivetti, Saleem Remi, Sly and Robbie–I’m a fan of so much music. Allen Toussaint–the list kind of goes on and on. The world of music and art always brings forth so many new ideas. It’s a vast world out there, and we’re students in it.
Who is your favorite producer outside of hip-hop–someone who never used samples?
All of those I mentioned before with the exception of Saleem Remi–I’d add to that Leon Ware, James Brown, George Clinton–it’s a lot of people. Even Phil Spector.
The song ‘World Of Vibrations’ reminded me of Sun Ra.
He’s definitely one of my heroes.
What was George Clinton like in person?
He was real chill–really really mellow, really really laid-back. And extremely creative, obviously. There’s always like five seconds of being starstruck, but once you get into the work, you realize you’re working not as a fan and a superstar–you’re working on a peer level. Two artists in the same space with the objective of creating.
When was the first time you ever became conscious of what a producer did?
It’s been at a lot of different points, man. Maybe the first time I heard a Run-D.M.C. record. The way the whole sonic picture was being made, the way the sounds were being put together and the way those sounds tapped into energy–that was always intriguing to me. But that entry kind of evolved once you get introduced to people like Mantronix–really technical producers. And then you get into a world of listening to different edits and things like that. But the early Run-D.M.C. records were the first time I became conscious.
Are you ever able to turn off your producer’s ear and just listen to music? Or do you always pick out technique?
I’m always listening like that. I try to get more and more into like pleasurable listening, but pleasurable listening only happens to me when I’m doing something else. Because I always have music on like 24 hours a day, so if I’m doing something else–like talking on the phone–then I’m listening to something in my subconscious and enjoying it. But if someone sits me down and says ‘listen to this,’ I’m definitely dissecting it.
Do you have any tricks you use if you’re working on a song that’s stuck and you want to unstick it?
I really just work off inspiration–if I’m stuck, I leave it and let it be until I’m inspired or til it comes automatically. I don’t believe in forcing things-you can’t force creativity.
Is there any genre of records you buy that you just like to listen to but you know you won’t be able to use?
It’s kind of funny because that happens in every genre–there are records I’ll buy just to hear how they’re put together. I won’t necessarily buy for what I call my ‘sample file.’ But at the same time, every genre can fit into my sample file. It really depends on what my headspace is at the time. I look at records like paint–every now and then I feel like I desperately need new colors. So I go out and get as many new colors as I can. Or other times, I feel like there are a lot of colors I haven’t ciphered through yet.
Are you hard to shop for?
I’m really particular–but generally people in my family know if something is music-related, they can’t really go wrong.
Speaking as a producer, what do you like more: lady humps or lady lumps?
Is that different from ‘My Humps’?
No, the exact same concept.
I don’t know, I feel like you’re setting me up–I’ll just say I love ladies. And more importantly, I love my lady.