Pioneering MC on Lyrical Craftsmanship, His Upcoming Album, and a New Approach to Songwriting
photos by Maria Grace Abuzman
The voice behind the expedited rhymes of Blackalicious and Bay Area rap collective Quannum Projects, Gift of Gab carries 20 years experience and, as a buttress of insightful hip-hop, casts his loquacious Jeet Kune Do, a blend of funk, farsightedness and fun, upon all eager and open ears.
His latest full-length, Next Logical Progression, allocates his mastery in the form of hyperbolic quips and syllabic swirls that dip, dive and cut through ideas of enlightenment, elation and “The Underground” sound.
In addition to releasing Next Logical Progression, what are you looking to accomplish in the next year?
Well, me and “X” [Chief Xcel] are currently working on a new Blackalicious record. I’m working on a couple of mix tapes, and I plan on touring like crazy. This almost feels like a new beginning. With the way that I feel about the Next Logical Progression and the way that I feel about this new Blackalicious album, it’s almost like a second wind.
I wanna hit Europe this fall and I still wanna hit Australia, and Japan as well. Always international. The world is an important place.
“This time around I took a recorder with me and any time I would hear a bass line or a piano riff or a guitar riff in my head, I would put it down with my voice.”
Would you describe your songwriting process?
The process for this record was different, as I played a part in crafting some of the music. This time around I took a recorder with me and any time I would hear a bass line or a piano riff or a guitar riff in my head, I would put it down with my voice.
G Koop is a producer who people go to replay samples, as well as, or even better than the original sample – and I’ve known G Koop for a minute. So, I would record stuff on my Dictaphone and I would go to G Koop’s crib and I would just hum the melody, hum the bass line. I would hum a piano riff or whatever and I’d have him play it. And from there we just added on.
This was a very organic process. I’ve never created like this. I think I have only just begun making songs like this. There is so much freedom to it and so much limitlessness to it.
“Art is infinite. It has no end to it. To me, that is intriguing because I am always curious as to what’s gonna come next.”
Who else was involved in the production of Next Logical Progression and what are some of the programs and instruments that are used on the record?
Everything from horns, guitars and Moogs to 808 drums – you name it, it’s there. I am always very blessed to work with very talented artists in all the projects that I’ve been on. This time I worked with George Clinton for the second time. There is a song with him and Latyrx, “Everything Is Fine;” we are real, real juiced about that. I did a song with Zumbi from Zion I, as well as with Raashan Ahmad from Crown City Rockers and a song with Martin Luther, an incredible singer from the Bay Area – the list goes on. I’m extremely excited about all the guests on this record.
You mentioned you would carry around the Dictaphone and record ideas that you had. Would you typically get a decent stockpile of ideas before you hit the studio?
Everything came from the mind. I have always envisioned the type of music I wanted to rhyme over, but my whole problem was: #1- I couldn’t play anything, and #2- I didn’t carry a recorder around. So in my mind it was a matter of humming it as precisely as I could, and then once in the studio, telling Koop how I wanted it to be played. This has been a whole new way of making songs for me.
Was it a difficult process to translate what you were humming?
Not really, because it’s all in your head. The talent is humming it right. There would be times I would get notes off key and say ‘Nah, that’s not how I heard it,’ and I would have to go back and replay the tape. The trick is to initially get it down correctly.
Describe the collaboration with George Clinton that appears on NLP.
Obviously, it is extremely funky, extremely lyrical. George is doing his thing on the hooks, he is doing his thing all over it – his presence is definitely there. It’s the funk! What else can I say? It was a great learning experience and a pleasure to be able to see a master at work. I just watched.
Who are some musical influences of yours that might surprise people?
Lambert, Hendricks and Ross – an old jazz trio. I like some bluegrass. I like anything that is ‘out there’ as far as vocal styling is concerned. I am into style, not just hip-hop, but as far as any kind of music is concerned. I am into anything that goes left of where the norm is.
What are some of your influences outside of music that influenced NLP?
Family, friends, movies, books, relationships, interactions – really just being an observer. I really liked Miles Davis’ book, Neale Donald Walsch, Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino. I am an observer. I really just like to watch creative people do their thing.
How would you say that Next Logical Progression differs from any of your previous projects?
Each one is different; each project represents a place in time and a space where any of the involved members may be at, be it musically or otherwise. With NLP it was a real free process and my new creative approach is what made it feel different.
In the sense of being an artist, how would you say that you have changed since coming on the scene?
I think I have just grown. I listen to everything that comes out. I take in everything from everybody that comes out and I think it helps me to grow.
What is it about you that sets you apart from the rest of today’s rappers?
I’ve seen it all, man. I have seen hip-hop in its early stages, in its growing stages; I’ve seen rappers come, and I’ve seen rappers go. And I have studied it all. Especially when it comes to the lyrical side, I am a very intense student when it comes to the art form called ‘rapping.’ I absorb and take everything in, and it becomes a part of what I do.
What is it about what you do that keeps you from doing something else?
I love it. I love what I do and I don’t see any limit to it and I don’t see any end to it. You can never create so many styles that there are no styles to be made up anymore; you can never tell so many stories that there are no more stories to be told. Art is infinite. It has no end to it. To me, that is intriguing because I am always curious as to what’s gonna come next.