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Blackalicious Keep It Positive

By Scoop A. Wasserstein, Crimson Staff Writer

“Yo, no more of that negative bullshit,” said opener Fatlip as he cut off the performance of his single, “What’s up Fatlip?”

It was an eccentric decision—since the song was his only biggest hit and something that the audience surely wanted to hear—made sensible only in the context of the eccentric vibe of the entire Blackalicious show last Tuesday night at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston.

Perhaps because of Boston’s semi-segregated design or the price of tickets, but the Caucasian to African-American ratio of the audience seemed similar to the ratio running for office on the Republican Party ticket—there were a few blacks there, but they seemed outnumbered and out of place.

First opener Pigeon John is about as annoying as an actual pigeon, and was followed by Omni, who is inoffensive and interchangeable with hundreds of other underground hip-hop artists.

Fatlip, one of the founders of playful West Coast hip-hop group The Pharcyde, followed by demonstrating his spectacularly unique flow, intermixing classics from his Pharcyde days with tracks from his recent solo effort, “The Loneliest Punk.” No one else has a single like “Writer’s Block”: “I coulda been a legend like Big and Pac/Instead I caught a bad case of writer’s block.”

He seemed nervous, however, and didn’t even attempt to engage the crowd with the usual clichéd stage banter. When his hypeman filled in the other verses on The Pharcyde’s classic cut “Passin’ Me By,” he just stood there, patiently waiting for the return of the mic. But there is no one like him when the music starts going.

The spectrum kept swinging with the introduction of the Lifesavaz Movement. I had not heard of them previous to the concert, but they seemed to specialize in shiny happy technically proficient hip-hop. Due to a mediocre sound set-up for their sets, it was difficult to hear their lyrics, but they were far more successful in hyping up the crowd than Fatlip. Their stage presence was strong in a clichéd way, that kept the crowd happy and could definitely lead to pop-hop success.

Having never seen Blackalicious in person, I was surprised to see only a sweetly rotund man (Gift of Gab) with 2 back-up singers and a DJ. It was an energetic performance that demonstrated Gift of Gab’s many, many vocal ranges, from Twista-esque fast-paced funk to Chuck D’s harder, self-satisfied flow to Rahzel’s use of his own voice as a technological instrument.

“The Craft” is the title of Blackalicious’ new album and it’s an apt title for output by the group. During their slightly-longer-than-an-hour set, which focused mostly on their newest material and their recent “Broken Arrow,” they displayed considerable craft. Each song had its separate pieces that were put together elegantly. The crowd enthusiastically nodded to the beat.

Everyone was engaged and there were few boundaries pushed. As the ideal of what mainstream hip-hop should be like, it was a great capper to the paradox of a very solid, yet all-over-the-place night of performances, relatively free of negative bullshit.

—Staff writer Scoop A. Wasserstein can be reached at wasserst@fas.harvard.edu

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