Blackalicious’ last full-length Blazing Arrow gave birth to what was undoubtedly the most uplifting song of the summer of ’02, the expansive jazz-funk infused “First in Flight.” The track was made flesh by a warm, smoky hook sung by the hyper-influential Gil Scott-Heron, whose blend of frankly introspective and immediate, political lyrics rubbed off in one way or another on every street conscious emcee.
On Fourth Dimensional, Gift of Gab’s first release apart from DJ Chief Xcel, it is clear that whatever the reasons for the solo project, Heron’s down to midtempo piano and bassline-driven work seems to be the main reference point. While this formula leads to an inviting, seductive sound, it doesn’t provide much of a defense to fans who lamented Blackalicious’ straying from the prototypically loping Oakland beats of their debut Nia. To be sure, there is none of that here, nor is there the drifting carnivalesque variety that made Blazing Arrow such an unabashed joy to put on at parties.
In his defense, the solo album should not and will not be judged against the merits of the group, and as a digression one couldn’t ask for anything so unequivocally pleasant. “Way of the Light,” built around a shuffling snare and a sparse tinny hook, is wonderfully positive. On “Rat Race” we get some of Mr. Gab’s urgent crescendos over an out of place mid-’90s gangster beat tinged with french horn. Sadly, the track suffers from the sort of look-at-me-I’m-rappin’ bravado that provides little interest next to carefully crafted soul-searching on conjoining songs.
This album isn’t a revolution, but it’ll go down smoother than that evening snifter of brandy you’re nursing while you wait for the new Blackalicious long player.
[Shade Falcon Remelin asks, “Where my daips’ at, yo?” Response: “Chugga, chugga, chugga.”]