With their third full-length, Blackalicious have produced a record of such sonic depth and lyrical ambition that it can proudly stand alongside the work of Bay Area funk fathers Sly Stone and Shuggie Otis, or hip-hop classics like Outkast's Aquemini and The Roots' Things Fall Apart. But The Craft isn't nostalgic for some golden era that never existed. Lyricist Gab moves beyond the introspection of earlier albums, and musically, Xcel accomplishes beats that touch on classic funk sidling cosily alongside the orchestral sweep of Stereolab. Features guest appearances by George Clinton, Floetry, Lateef The Truth Speaker, and Pigeon John. Anti. 2005.
This is the kind of album that divides fans. On one side, there are the ones that will see the Bay Area hip-hop duo composed of rapper Gift of Gab and producer Chief Xcel taking a logical step forward, recruiting high-profile guests (George Clinton, Floetry) and banking on a more commercial sound with effervescent R&B tracks like "Powers," "World of Vibrations" and "Lotus Flower." Then there are those that will lament the passing of the band's vintage, more meaningful sound. As if the crew was expecting the cynics to turn up to the party, midway through the album dramatically shifts gears--out goes the pop and in comes the soul via "The Fall & Rise of Elliot Brown" and "Black Diamonds & Pearls." You might suspect West Coast conscious rap contemporaries Black Eyed Peas stood at the very same crossroads before they sold their first million. --Aidin Vaziri