Blackalicious leaves sweet taste in campus’ mouth

Michael Stockinger

Being a rocker, I’ll admit that I know nothing about hip-hop, but I was curious after being bombarded with signs all over campus promoting a free concert featuring the group Blackalicious.

What is Blackalicious?, I thought, thinking that it was a female R&B group like Destiny’s Child; upon further research I found that it is a locally formed hip-hop group.

Maybe it was just the name, which is curious enough, but I decided after my research that this would be a good opportunity to explore a different genre of music.

Being my first hip-hop concert, I didn’t know what to expect.

I knew there wouldn’t be any mosh-pits or slamdancers to worry about, and that this would be much more laid back than a rock concert.

The show was held on Thursday at Serna Plaza, a stage and small grassy area behind the University Union, where free concerts are held on a regular basis through the semester.

The opening act was the local group, Addict Merchants, which featured a rapper, keyboardist, bassist, DJ, drummer and, surprisingly, a flutist/saxophonist.

Having an interesting assortment of instruments, one would also expect this group to have an interesting sound. They did.

Their music was slow, relaxed and calm, seamlessly bringing together funk, jazz, and hip-hop, while the vocals were reminiscent of Eminem and Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine.

Think rapping over a smooth-jazz radio station or the Weather Channel, and though that may sound odd, this crossbreed of genre meshed so perfectly well and left the audience in awe, especially during flute tracks and saxophone solos.

When Addict Merchants finished and Blackalicious’s stage setup began, I stood marveling at the diversity of the crowd; there were mothers with small children, fathers with sons, babies, and students of all ethnicities.

I was reminded of what someone had once told me: Sacramento is extremely diverse.

When Blackalicious came out to begin their performance, the audience was already worked up.

The set began with a funky keyboard beat and the group’s backup singers harmonizing together in an R&B, hymn-like fashion.

Gift of Gab, the group’s MC, strutted out and began spitting out an onslaught of words at lightning speed to the groups funky beat, bringing an energy rarely seen at concerts.

Gift of Gab, a big man, loomed and acted as if he owned the stage, while DJ Chief Excel mastered his four turntables with ease and alacrity.

The opening number was performed with plenty of energy, spreading from the stage into the audience, where hands were in the air and people jumped up and down to the funky, R&B, hip-hop beat.

The intimate setting or maybe the smoke in the air no doubt led to the crowd being very responsive to Gift of Gab’s commands of saying “Ho,” or throwing hands in the air, making the show fun and giving audience members a chance to interact with the performers.

Throughout the show, the keyboardist, a thin, tall, white-guy, danced like I had never seen anyone dance except for Jason Kay of Jamiroquai, in the “Virtual Insanity” video.

He played with one hand, never missed a key, and danced behind, and to the left and right of his keyboards, thus only lending more energy and force to the group’s show.

Blackalicious’ music incorporates plenty of jazz and R&B, using the harmonious voices of the backup vocalists — a man and two women — heavily.

At times, Gift of Gab rapped so fast and moved his head so quickly that I heard someone joke that they hoped his head wouldn’t fall off. I hoped the same, but this display of talent was rather impressive.

Gift of Gab even did some of his own freestyle rapping, which was brief but definitely cool; the crowd ate it up.

The group also performed a song that Gift of Gab said he had worked on with the legendary funkster George Clinton, making everyone, if they weren’t doing it before, bob their heads.

Blackalicious ended their set with an encore after the audience had demanded it, playing songs from their upcoming CD “The Craft,” due out Sept 27.

Although the smoke in the air may have contributed, I had a great time at my first hip-hop show and I left with a smile on my face, feeling energetic, positive, and in a good mood.

If you have a chance, I definitely recommend seeing this group live.