Nowhere Fast

Blackalicious takes its sweet time moving from underground to overground

"They are brilliant musically as well as having such strong topical commentary in their lyrics," says Boberg, who has a longtime rep for nurturing and developing bands. At a recent press party for Blackalicious, he proudly boasted that he expects to sell 800,000 copies of Blazing Arrow.

Like a proud parent or coach, or maybe just a savvy salesman, Boberg may be a tad hyperbolic. Like Blackalicious, unconventional rap acts Jurassic 5, Black Eyed Peas and Dilated Peoples each cultivated loyal underground fan bases before signing with a major. But despite big-league promotional pushes, none of them has hit gold status yet, possibly because their music is too heady for the kids and teens who constitute the bulk of rap consumers, and not hard-core enough for the suburban buyers who demand the vicarious thrill of the gangsta lifestyle in their music. Then again, the Roots and Common both blew up once they came to MCA.

As they relish their tuna sandwiches and fruit cups, Gab and X don't seem overly concerned with sales, or about jumping from underground to overground. Rather, Blazing Arrow simply marks a new chapter in what X calls a "natural progression."

"It's something we've been working at for years": Big-label newcomers Gift of Gab, left, and Chief Xcel began a decade ago, selling records on consignment.
"It's something we've been working at for years": Big-label newcomers Gift of Gab, left, and Chief Xcel began a decade ago, selling records on consignment.

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April 19
Canyon Club at Bronco Bowl Entertainment

The best part of their new situation, they say, is that they can devote 100 percent of their time to their music, without worrying about side jobs and other distractions. In lieu of a fancy new car or a house or diamond bezels, their big indulgence was building their own personal production "compound" at X's home in Sac, where they're free from time constraints or outside pressures.

Says X: "For us, the focus has always been on the music. Our whole mentality was, the deal is done, stuff is finally in place, but we've got all of these songs we've been working on and we want to get them done. We went directly from on the road and straight into the studio. Our plan has always been to be a group that spends six to eight months on the road and six to eight months in the studio."

Gab sums up: "Just because we got a deal with a major, it wasn't like we crossed some kind of finish line."

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