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As only the second release from the underground Bay Area hip-hop label then known as SoleSides, Blackalicious' Melodica is an admirable effort that gives a glimpse of the group's potential. Unlike the more funky and aggressive sounds that populate their later releases, Melodica leans more toward a smoky and groovy vibe that is reminiscent of early-'90s hip-hop like Digable Planets and A Tribe Called Quest. When they truly click on tracks like "Lyric Fathom" and "Rhymes for the Deaf, Dumb & Blind," producer Chief Xcel and MC the Gift of Gab prove to be an engaging duo. Most of the other songs, including the successful single "Swan Lake," feature more sparse and laid-back beats that sometimes overstay their welcome and lead to gratuitously long tracks. Despite more references to getting high and drunk than the social and musical discourse of Nia, the Gift of Gab shines brightest on Melodica, firmly asserting on almost every song that he is just as dexterous and gifted as any other underground or mainstream MC. Because it is not easy to find, this album is probably best suited for the true fan who is rounding out their Blackalicious collection. For everyone else, most of its best tracks are featured on SoleSides Greatest Bumps, which also features labelmates and Melodica contributors DJ Shadow, Lateef the Truth Speaker, and Lyrics Born.

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