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Gift of Gab - 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up

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Artist: Gift of Gab

Album: 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up

Label: Quannum Projects

Review date: Aug. 4, 2004

It's safe to say that Gift of Gab’s rapping is beyond reproach. As the vocal half of Blackalicious, he delivers creatively and viscerally. 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up, his first album without attachment to Blackalicious producer/DJ Chief Xcel, should be an opportunity for him to showcase his gifts and take them in new directions. And in many ways it is, but for some reason it's markedly less satisfying than anything he's done to date.

Gab himself keeps it together well, and if his lyrics here aren't as remarkable as they were on Nia or Blazing Arrow, they're still ahead of the game. His trademark verbal workout comes on strong on "Rat Race": ”It's the Gift of Gab new rap seminar / Male groupies, please show me where the women are / In a world full of sheist-type criminals / Make a LP feel like cinema.” His light-speed enunciation reaches dizzying heights too, particularly on "The Writz" (a clever funkification of "Puttin' On The Ritz"). However, on other songs Gab's delivery tends to fall into worn patterns of regularly punctuated emphasis in the middle of each measure ("I'm giving it my all, it's just my sentiments are falling as I give into the power of just living in the now"). This isn't a bad thing on its own, but compared to his unpredictable flow on earlier albums it's something of a disappointment.

There's also the matter of his general outlook throughout the album: A certain goodness that sometimes teeters on the brink of saccharine. He talks to an immigrant cab driver about the nature of American opportunity in "Up," and he offers solace to his nephew in jail (presumably the same one who Gab explained was about to be released in Blazing Arrow's "First In Flight") in "In A Minute Doe." He raps about rapping for the sake of rapping in "Just Because," and lists the obligatory back-in-the-day reminiscences in "Flashback." As if the album title's suggestion of some transcendent cosmic agency weren't odd enough, Rocketships has its share of eyebrow-raising implications that go beyond the average positive rapper's social conscience – not so many as to detract seriously from the whole, but enough to bear mention.

Still, the greatest setback is the album's production, as it's easy to imagine Gab boasting the same verbal trickery and espousing the same messages as he does here with way more interesting support. Despite a couple of great tracks ("Writz," "Rat Race," "Up"), most of the songs on Rocketships, produced by Vitamin D and/or Jake One, sound pedestrian – either too ethereal or too smoove to effectively bolster Gab's flow. "To Know You" could be any bland club anthem with an insipid chorus, and "Way Of The Light" is an incredibly annoying pseudo-reggae vamp; the rhymes are decent in both, but they're overshadowed by the unpalatable beats.

The greatest revelation that Rocketships offers vis-à-vis Blackalicious is that it's not Gift of Gab who carries all the weight, that Chief Xcel is responsible for more of the winning formula than many might have thought. Though he's never been an ostentatious producer, the dull beats here make his wide-eyed work seem especially accomplished (it takes some gusto to spin Harry Nilsson's The Point! into a jam like "Blazing Arrow," right?). As for the solo thing, Gab turns in another album's worth of solid acrobatics, but only on a handful of well-produced tracks does he shine like he has in the past. Hopefully Chief Xcel will forgive him for trying to fix what was never broken in the first place.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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