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Blackalicious Interview: Black Diamonds

Author: Benjamin Preiss
Monday, December 19, 2005
Celebrated hip hop duo Blackalicious have just dropped their third album - they think it's perhaps the best yet. But why the move away from their major label- Xcel explains

Xcel is obviously tired. I'm seventh in line for an interview and by the sound of his voice from his home Sacramento it's been a draining experience. But Xcel (Xavier Mosley), DJ and producer for duo Blackalicious, makes no excuses for the work that goes along releasing a new album. He concedes that putting out the group's third album, 'The Craft', has been an emotionally taxing process. But he claims the hip hop group has never taken any soft options with its releases.

"Each one of these records takes so much out of you creatively, emotionally and spiritually. I like to take time, breathe and live life before I start even thinking about what I'm going to do next," he says.

"I'm in that period of absorbing the things around me and studying more music and just being inspired by more art around me before I get down and say 'this is the next direction'."

After 18 years making music in Blackalicious, now would seem an appropriate time to reflect on what the group has achieved and how they have developed. Mosley met his lyrical partner Gift of Gab (Timothy Parker) at Kennedy High in 1989. After three years apart they reunited at the University of California, where would also meet future Quannum Records label mates DJ Shadow, Lateef The Truth Speaker, and Lyrics Born. After releasing several EPs, Blackalicious put out their debut LP, 'Nia', on Quannum in 2000.

Through the 1990's Blackalicious offered a politically aware and socially conscious style of hip hop that differed markedly from much of the rap coming out of their home state. 'Nia' received an enthusiastic critical reception and also helped the group gain the attention of major record labels. Despite Blackalicious' penchant for socially aware lyrics, Mosley explains it was not a deliberate decision.

"We don't set out to be positive rappers or to be conscious rappers. We just set out to make music that's us, make music that reflects who we are as people. From day one that has been the bottom line. The objective is to make music that is 100 per cent who we are as people. That's all we really know how to do," he says.

Having put out a record on an independent label, the pair decided to try their luck with a major record deal with MCA. In 2002 Blackalicious released its second album, 'Blazing Arrow'. Again the album was lauded in critical circles, as the group began to access a broader audience. But Mosley maintains that the corporate environment with the label neither bothered them nor hindered their style.

"We knew going in that it was going to be the situation. The trade off was being able to reach more fans and that was exactly what we did. It wasn't really a thing of having a bad experience, it was more about choosing the next experience we wanted to have," he says.

"We've done it both ways. We've put out records independently and put out records through majors. It doesn't really matter. Those are just vehicles for us to underlie a body of work that we're trying to develop. Again we're also working to develop a rock solid fan base. So with that said we've always taken a hands-on approach to everything we do. We don't know any other way to do it."

Blackalicious collaborated with a diverse line-up of artists for their latest album from Quannum contemporaries to major influences on hip hop roots like Gil Scott Heron and George Clinton. Mosley and Parker finally settled on the Anti label for 'The Craft'. Mosley explains that the label offered an attractive middle ground between offering substantial resources in a more relaxed environment.

"I'm a big fan of what it has achieved as an independent label. They've also provided somewhat of a model for what we're achieving with our own label Quannum Projects. After putting out our last record through Univer