By Dave Pehling

BERKELEY (CBS SF) — Along with groundbreaking turntable talent DJ Shadow and MC/producer Lyrics Born, hip-hop duo Blackalicous featuring rapper Gift of Gab and producer Chief Xcel first surfaced in the early 1990s from the unlikely location of Davis, California.

The future members of what would become known as the SoleSides crew met at KDVS, the 5000-watt college radio station at the Davis campus of the University of California. Drawn to the hip-hop show by DJ Zen (better known later as hip-hop journalist and author Jeff Chang), the MCs and producers got over their initial feelings of competitiveness to form the SoleSides collective and establish the label of the same name.

In 1994, the imprint issued the debut recorded effort by Blackalicious. Featuring Gab’s dauntingly complex rhymes over gritty, cinematic beats courtesy of Xcel and Shadow, the critically lauded Melodica EP established the group and the SoleSides crew as major players on the global hip-hop scene.

It took some time, but the duo eventually followed up on that effort five years later with the equally celebrated A2G EP (with the indelible cuts “Alphabet Aerobics” and “Deception”) that led to the acclaimed full-length Nia later that same year. By the time Blackalicious had signed to MCA for Blazing Arrow in 2002, the duo was collaborating in the studio with contemporary hip-hop stars (Charlie 2na of kindred spirits Jurassic 5 and The Roots drummer/producer Questlove) and iconic influences like spoken-word pioneer Gil Scott Heron.

The group took a decade-long break issuing new material after The Craft, their effort for Anti-/Epitaph in 2005. While Blackalicious would still regularly perform live and occasionally tour during the hiatus, most of their focus would be on solo efforts and other projects as well as health issues. Gab struggled with diabetes and eventually received a kidney transplant, though he still managed two albums under his own name and a third as part of the group the Mighty Underdogs during the break.

The ten-year silence came to an end last spring when the duo began releasing songs from a promised trilogy of albums. Announced in part by a Pledge Music campaign, the first disc Imani Vol. 1 came out in 2015 to wide acclaim. Though group has yet to announce any release dates for future volumes of Imani, Gift of Gab just issued his latest solo album Rejoice! Rappers Are Rapping Again! this week. Blackalicious headlines the Cornerstone in Berkeley Sunday night with special guest Amerigo Gazway, a talented producer/DJ who has garnered widespread praise for his creative mash-up albums that bring together acappella verses from golden-era hip-hop act with creatively reconstructed beats as on the celebrated efforts Fela Soul (De La Soul vocals over beats from Fela Kuti songs), Yasiin Gaye (Yasiin Bey aka Mos Def paired with music from R&B legend Marvin Gaye), the Pharcyde/A Tribe Called Quest Bizarre mix Tribe: A Quest to the Pharcyde and — most recently — A Common Wonder that mashes up Chicago MC Common with music from Motown great Stevie Wonder.

Blackalicious
Sunday, June 3, 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. $20-$25
Cornerstone Berkeley

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