Hip hop’s most dexterous MC and his producer—and their band Blackalicious—are back after a ten-year break.
With much contemporary rap still obsessing with celebrity, wealth, and squabbles—real and imagined—it’s great to be reminded of better times.
There’s a danger that any group out of action for that long will just try to pick up where they left off.
Thankfully, that’s not the case with Imani.
A highly creative use of samples and band mean the sound is fresh.
Sometimes tracks are dominated by hard beats, others by a solo violin mixed with roots reggae, or some weird 1960s psychedelia.
You’re never quite sure of what will come next.
Blackalicious are socially conscious, but don’t take themselves too seriously.
So in Blacka, they list all the things that they are blacker than.
It’s an exhaustive list, including the Black Panthers and midnight in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The rap style throughout is reminiscent of their decade-old hit Alphabet Aerobics.
MC Gift of Gab delivered a relentless stream of rhyming words from A to Z, while always increasing the tempo.
But sometimes the mood is contemplative and occasionally a little soppy.
Let’s grant Gift of Gab this indulgence. Making this album has been his way of coping since his diabetes-related kidney failure in 2012.
The concluding track, Imani, lists the pressures building up among the millions of black Americans forced to live in ghettos.
It concludes with the need to “have faith”. The sentiment reminded me of “My People, hold on”, a song by former Temptations singer Eddie Kendricks.
Written at the close of the Civil Rights Movement, it was a rallying cry for those who had dedicated themselves to resistance.
It’s sad that so many will find that sentiment relevant again today.