The late '90s ushered in a second golden age of progressive hip-hop, as a group of ambitious young lions rose from the underground to redefine the art of lyrical technique and revive the idea that hip-hop had relevant statements to make. With their 2000 debut album, Blackalicious established themselves as one of the West Coast's top outfits in this vein, and while it was very good, their follow-up, Blazing Arrow, is simply fantastic, vaulting the duo to the forefront of the progressive hip-hop pack. Much of Blazing Arrow retains NIA's airy, laconic feel, but the group's sense of craft has improved to a startling degree; the hooks are sharper and more plentiful, Gift of Gab's rhymes are denser, Chief Xcel's production is more breathtakingly lush, and his arrangements more sophisticated. What's more, the tracks draw from a rich sonic palette -- not just the expected jazz-funk and old-school influences, but straight pop (check the Nilsson sample on the title track) and smooth soul (particularly the Philly variety, but also the contemporary neo-soul revival) in particular. In spite of the duo's intellectual bent, the grooves on Blazing Arrow exude a tremendous warmth that's only complemented by the positivity of their messages. And if Gift of Gab wasn't recognized among hip-hop's premier lyricists before, he certainly ought to be now; his raps are jam-packed with internal rhymes, allusions, metaphors, ten-cent words, and amazing tongue-twisting feats of skill. Guests include members of Jurassic 5, Dilated Peoples, and Latyrx (all worthy company), not to mention singer/songwriter Ben Harper, Zack de la Rocha (Rage Against the Machine), and the legendary Gil Scott-Heron. All the pieces add up to not just one of the best rap albums of 2002, but one of the richest, most captivating albums to emerge from hip-hop's artsy new underground.
AllMusic Review by Steve Huey
feat: De La Soul