Big fat rolled-up and smoked-out soul-centric hip-hop joint of the year, the Blackalicious big-dollar major-label debut follows '99's fine longplayer NIA with more of the duo's lithe lyricism and proud hip-hop-ism set to the groove of their own conception of beautiful sole music. The newfound expense-account-aided time-in-the-nice-studio cachet gives the gifted Gift of Gab and champ Chief Xcel all the time they want to feel their sweet-and-sweaty hip-hopped funk, the analog tone of the recordings coming off as some big warm b-boy hug. In a gesture of respect, Blackalicious send out a couple of self-referential nods to assuage any fears of the been-with-you-since-the-first-tape fans: the title track, featuring Gab's familiar spat-out syncopations pushed proudly to the fore at the rec's commencement; Chali 2Na of J5, bringing his eyelid-fluttering flowery feelgood flows to "4000 Miles"; "Chemical Calisthenics," inviting Cut Chemist to cut up a sequel to their A to G "Alphabet Aerobics"; and "Paragraph President," showing off with similar synonystic verbalism, with Xcel pulling samples from both Shadow and De La.
But Blazing Arrow isn't a hip-hop record as such. Its styled-up soulful-soul stylings evoking peace and love and community and hot hot nights with an affection unfamiliar to the battlegrounds of hip-hop's battleground mentality. The fire from their Blackalicious bow and arrow goes deep into the soul of a summer's night sky, so soulful that the duo seem to be rolling the dice at making straight-up spiritual music. They invite on board such famed spiritual soldiers as genius-like poet/rapper/actor/new-love-rocker Saul Williams, popular nu-blues dude Ben Harper, crotch-grabbing politico-screecher Zack de la Rocha, and this old cat called Gil Scott-Heron. They also solicit soul-singing help from new-soul sistas like Quannum queen Joyo Velarde, silky-smooth crooner Keke Wyatt and Jay-Z's unplugged belter Jaguar Wright, even bringing in Soulquarian cats ?uestlove and James Poyser to butter up the lengthy in-the-middle jam "Nowhere Fast."
But it's probably "Release," the cut with Williams and de la Rocha, that captures the essence of the 17-track/74-minute album's grand-sized spiritualist sentiments. The nine-minute prog-rock triptych starts out as screaming Sly-stepping funk-rock anthem before getting lost in some clouded peyote haze, wandering through a desert of desert-rocker's valve-toned amp-hum and crying cello. Only Saul's tripped-out poetry serves as a tool of divination, his impassioned voice holding your hand until the hissing winds lift and the dust storm clears and all becomes clear. The finale finds Latyrx's Lyrics Born coming out the other side feeling the funk like he'd never felt it before.