Blackalicious MC Gift of Gab’s passion for the craft keeps him raising his rap game

At the risk of quoting one of music’s most overrated dead guys: Could it get much higher?

Seriously? How could that even be possible?

It’s an interesting thing to ponder as legendary lyric-spitter Gift of Gab (a.k.a. Timothy Parker), one-half of Bay Area hip-hop wonders Blackalicious, talks about a recent collaboration with fellow MCs R.A. the Rugged Man and A-F-R-O on the ridiculously, wondrously wordy and wonderful Freedom Form Flowing on Gab’s recently released solo EP Rejoice! Rappers Are Rapping Again!

“That was a fun song to do ’cause both of those guys are incredible MCs,” says Gab on the line from his Cali home home. “And I like working with MCs that force me to raise my own bar, you know?”


Again, how could that bar possibly be elevated further than it has been over his 25-year career with DJ/producer/and musical partner Chief Xcel (Xavier Mosley), or his many solo outings and collabs?

He’s known as an artist whose flow has always been above and beyond all the others, as evidenced by such notable singles as hip-hop classics such as Alphabet Aerobics and on such timeless, positive, old-school-esque full-lengths as 1999’s Nia and 2002’s Blazing Arrow.

His mouth is a rhyming dictionary spigot open full, so to hear that there may be another level to his game is boggling and one that he admits is something that continues to fuel him.

“It’s just the love for the art, a love for the passion, and being a real student of the artform and the culture,” he says.

The rest of the six-song Rejoice! bears that out, with Gab running the gamut from the goofiness of the self-glossing Gabman to the ferocious Abominable, which is a “tribute” to those MCs who “made me want to raise the bar and want to take it to the next level” (“I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you!”) and perhaps one of the nearest and dearest tracks to his heart, the self-explanatory The Gentrification Song.

“Just observing what goes on and what continues to go on all over America,” he says of the inspiration. “And even I was just in London and they was talking about some neighbourhood called Brixton, they was talking about how it was happening out there. That’s a real issue right now.

“I see it going on all over. I see it going on in Oakland, I see it going on in Harlem, I see it going on all over … People get envelopes in the mail saying, ‘OK your rent has been $1,300 for the last 10 years, we’re about to raise it to $3,600 in two weeks and either pay or get out.’ That’s crazy …

“It’s almost like they’re trying to turn America into a Third World country. You think about it, think about the middle class, you used to be able to work at Starbucks and be cool, back in the days, you know now, you work at Starbucks, you’re struggling. Even UPS, you used to have a job at UPS, that used to be a good job. The middle class is disappearing slowly.”

When it’s pointed out that it appears there’s someone down there who seems intent on making it happen and a little faster, Gab is on it.

“Oh, yeah, and his name is Trump,” he says.

“I might move to Canada, man. Y’all got free healthcare. There are so much benefits to living in Canada, I might just go ahead and make that trek. Maybe Vancouver? It’s not that far from California, so I could come back and see my family real easy. I’m thinking about it, man, I’m thinking about moving to Vancouver.”

Um. Did someone say “gentrification?”

Gab thinks briefly about an offer for a full-time 403 or 587 area code, when he and Xcel hit town for some Calgary Folk Music Festival appearances, Friday, July 26 and Saturday, July 27.

“Only thing about Calgary that I might not be able to hang with is the snow and cold,” he says.

“I love Calgary, but the snow might be the only thing that would prevent me from moving there.”

His work might also play a huge part in that, as he says he’s currently involved in a number of projects, including another solo album, as well as Imani Vol. 2, the sequel to Blackalicious’s last album — and their first in a decade — 2015’s Imani Vol. 1, and even a book.

“I’m staying busy, man,” he says. “I’m staying busy and creative.”

He’s also staying healthy. Gab reveals he’s now got a personal trainer and is working out every other day, including after this interview. It’s all part of attempting to deal with his kidney failure due to Type 1 diabetes, which requires him to undergo regular dialysis treatment.

In fact, he’ll do it Friday morning in Oakland before hopping on a plane to Calgary, where he’s supposed to take part in a workshop in the late afternoon before Blackalicious’s evening set.

“One I get out there I’m going have to rest until showtime at night, so just a head’s up I may not make the workshop in the day, but I’ll definitely be there for the show at night and for the next performance on Saturday.”

As for the Friday night showcase, it should be a memorable one as Gab lays out what festgoers can expect.

“Expect a few new things, expect a bunch of classics, you can expect a bunch of the songs people obviously look to hear at a Blackalicious show, such as Alphabet Aerobics and Deception, and expect some special guests that we’re bringing with us, too,” he teases.

“I won’t say it, though, just let it be a surprise.”

Blackalicious perform at the Calgary Folk Music Festival, with a concert Friday, July 27 on the National Stage (Stage 4) at 9 p.m., and the Free Your Mind workshop that day at 6 p.m. on the same stage, and the That’s A Rap workshop Saturday, July 28 at 3:20 p.m. on the Rigstar Stage (Stage 5). For tickets and the full schedule please go to calgaryfolkfest.com.

Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for theYYSCENE.com. Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at mike@theyyscene.com. He likes beer. Buy him one.