Gift of Gab (born Timothy Parker) is 50 percent of the hip-hop duo Blackalicious. He writes rhymes with precision, clarity and speed, while Chief Xcel (born Xavier Mosley) crafts classic beats. They met back in 1987 in a home economics class at John F. Kennedy High School in Sacramento. This weekend they come back to town with a performance at TBD Fest in West Sacramento.
Gab moved to Sacramento from Los Angeles to live with his brother’s family after his mother passed away. In that home economics class Gab and Xcel talked about NorCal vs. SoCal hip-hop and they formed a fast friendship. The two started making music together and kept in touch after Gab graduated and moved to Los Angeles.
“[Xcel] would play beat over the phone and I would write to the beats over the phone,” said Gab.
A year later Xcel graduated from high school and started at UC Davis. That’s when Gab moved back to the area to found Blackalicious. Through a special program and some classes at Sacramento City College, Gab got into UC Davis too, but he found he spent most of his classes writing rhymes, so he dropped out of school but stayed in Davis.
“I got to experience the college lifestyle without being in school,” said Gab about his days in Davis. “That’s where the whole crew met.”
The crew being a cohort of rappers and DJs, like Lyrics Born and DJ Shadow, all coming up in the scene and collaborating on projects.
“Sacramento is really where I got my battle chops at. I’m originally a battle lyricist - someone who does it for the love of the sport,” said Gab. “There were a lot of really dope emcees out there.”
He said after coming back from LA he had an attitude, thinking he could coast into the Sacramento scene.
“I was taught not to sleep on the scene when I went out to Sacramento,” said Gab. “I really learned how to get fierce. It could’ve happened in LA - but it happened in Sacramento.”
Gab now lives in the Bay Area, but still has friends and family in Sacramento and considers the city a second home.
Blackalicious’s style of hip-hop is typified by the socially conscious, honest and positive attitude, and Gab’s relentlessly intelligent tongue-twisting rhymes. In one song Gab uses fountains of alliteration to move alphabetically through thoughts, while all the words start with the same letter from one section to the next. It all makes perfect sense.
“I don’t really know any of that stuff,” explained Gab. “We came up for the concept of the song - and I had to go get a periodic table. Which was this booklet with chemistry definitions. Everything makes sense because as I would write I was studying the book. I studied it for the purpose of writing rhyme.”
He said teachers tell him they’ve played his songs for their classes, he said he’s just happy to spread some positivity.
“It’s just the type of person I am. I believe in God, I believe in karma, I believe in being a good person. It’s not really deep to me - it’s the way I look at life. It’s my point of view,” Gab said about his positive outlook. “The best thing to do as an artist is to be honest. To express how you see the world and how you want to see the world.”
Gab said he keeps his positive outlook by staying in the moment and surrounding himself with good people.
This year Blackalicious re-released their first EP Melodica and they are set to release their fourth LP, titled Emoni, in March of next year.
“We’re tightening up some things,” said Gab about the new album.
He said they’ll be bringing some new songs to TBD Fest this Sunday around 4:30 on the Beautiful Buzz Stage, along with the classics.