IN AN INTERVIEW last November on popmatters.com, Chief Xcel—one part of Blackalicious, the other half being Gift of Gab—remembered a thought kept in mind while creating the duo's latest album. "I was talking to Marsha [Ambrosius] from Floetry, and she said, 'Trying to force a song when you have writer's block is the equivalent of creative rape,'" Xcel said. "You really have to let yourself be the vessel and step out of the way and the inspiration will come. When you force it, it never ever works."
It's tough to imagine Xcel or Gift of Gab forcing any creative output, considering Blackalicious' songs are some of hiphop's most organically fluid and dense. Perhaps not coincidentally, Blackalicious are two of the founding members of Quannum Projects (née SoleSides), the one hiphop label—actually, the one anything label—that has yet to disappoint with its output.
Blackalicious' best album to date, 2002's Blazing Arrow, is a crowded disc, stacked strata of super-fast lyrics, retro funk and soul, and high scratches atop heavy beats—and it's incessantly, ridiculously entertaining, sounding as if Xcel and Gift of Gab really are doing the whole "vessel" thing, the duo carefully and effortlessly riding an exuberantly creative groove.
So oddly enough, it's Blackalicious' supporting act that makes this show so promising. (No, not Lifesavas—as Portland's own, they show up more often than a tight sweater on Daria O'Neill.) It's likely they'll be outshined here by a rarer appearance: Fatlip, who will, presumably, bring along his characteristically slurred delivery, one that's both languid and emotionally precise. (If you haven't seen Spike Jonze's half-hour profile of Fatlip, What's Up, Fatlip?—filmed while Jonze directed a video for the song of the same title—do so immediately. It's one of the smartest, funniest, and saddest bios of a working musician you'll ever see, despite [nah, because of] the fact that Fatlip—sometimes wearing a clown getup, other times dressed up as a retard—talks about getting kicked out of the Pharcyde and unwittingly hooking up with a transvestite.)
But okay, anyway: Back to the idea of creativity, both forced and flowing. On his album The Loneliest Punk, Fatlip gripes during "Writer's Block" that "I coulda been a legend like Big and 'Pac/but I caught a bad case of writer's block," then riffs on artists who "talk gangsta when you really ain't one/the last gat you shot was a paint gun," adding that "I'm sorta like a fuckin' dweeb, and that don't sell/I never been shot or been to jail/but I'm beginnin' to wish I had been/just to put it down on a pad with a pen." Blackalicious waits for inspiration to spin their vinyl and hit up their beats; meanwhile, Fatlip crumbles under his lack of ideas and wonders why he's snubbed by the muses. Blackalicious' beats are slicker and their lyrics bouncier, but Fatlip brings it truer—and unexpectedly but appropriately, their appearing on the same stage feels perfectly complementary, like great, honest hiphop flowing together, joining even as it hails from the far-away vanishing points of disparate ends on the creative spectrum.