Quannum, 2000

REVIEW BY: Ben Ehrenreich


There are very few albums that hip-hop truly needed. Sure, there is a long list of classics, but very few changed the genre; the short list inclued It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back and The Chronic, which represented a different side of hip hop and vaunted their artists to luminaries of the genre.

Blackalicious' debut Nia was a disc hip hop needed, but sadly it did not have an impact. The duo consists of MC Gift of Gab and producer Chief Xcel, and they did not receive a record deal until after this album. It's no surprise that nobody heard this debut, but it is a shame that an album of such importance will go relatively unnoticed.

Nia is very well produced and full of completely positive and introspective lyrics courtesy of Gift of Gab and his very talented friends. Even the intro, “Searching,” consists of elegant poetry instead of the usual nonsense included in a hip-hop intro, and Gift of Gab wastes no time displaying his lyrical ability on “The Fabulous Ones.” my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Out of all the highlights on this album, the real gem is “Shallow Days,” an intelligent critique of hip-hop through a conversation Gift of Gab has with a stereotypical rap fan. It alone is worth the admission price and is among the best songs I have ever heard. Six years before Nas was telling the mainstream Hip Hop Is Dead, Gift of Gab was telling anyone who would listen the problems with mainstream hip-hop. However, Gift of Gab never claims hip-hop is dead because his lyrics shine light on the dwindling genre.

“Shallow Days” is one of those songs that needs to be played in high rotation, as opposed to the idiotic Jim Jones gibberish “We Fly High,” a low point here. Other highlights include the lyrical onslaught “Trouble,” the fascinating fantasy of “Hanger, Cliff,” the original alphabetical slaughter “A To G” and the Gift of Gab/Lateef The Truth Speaker duet “Smithzonian Institute Of Rhyme.”

Nia contains a perfect balance of upbeat bangers and slow-paced grooves. There is even the excellent “Ego Trip By Nikki Giovanni,” which does nothing but enhance the experience of Nia. Even Blackalicious’s interludes are far superior to the majority of the ones found on many hip-hop albums.

Both “Dream Seasons” and “Sleep” fail to live up to the rest of the album, but that’s not saying much, because very few songs do in fact live up to the excellent arrangements here. The biggest problem with “Sleep” is that it slows the album down too much between “Making Progress” and “Finding.” Nia would have a smoother ending if the song was removed or placed elsewhere.

Andre 3000’s quote from “Humble Mumble” sums up this album’s significance better than I can: “Speeches only reaches those who already know about it.” Replace speeches with Nia and the depressing thought of this album never seeing the light of day haunts me like Paul Crewe’s gambling woes.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


I got into Blackalicious with 'Blazing Arrow' - so I'm a bit partial to that album being their masterpiece. Still - 'Nia' is a great effort. Nice review!

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