realized that, I started to feel inspired and just threw myself into writing, and that became a big part of the fuel for this record."
Although it's been a decade since the last Blackalicious release, the pair has remained busy with a variety of musical endeavors. Gift of Gab released three solo albums, 2004's 4th Dimension Rocketships Going Up, 2009's Escape 2 Mars and 2012's The Next Logical Progression. Chief Xcel worked with acclaimed soul singer Ledisi, and formed Burning House with R.V. Salters of General Eletriks, releasing the 2013 album Walking Into A Burning House.
"Blackalicious never stopped," asserts Gift of Gab. "We just wanted to explore other things as individuals, and in 2012 we realized that it was time to return to the mothership. I was a little nervous at first, and thought that it might take some time to rebuild. But when we started doing shows, we were selling out everywhere, and people were telling us that they grew up on our music. It was encouraging to find out that, even after all these years, we're actually important to people.
"It's like traveling," Gab continues. "It's always good to travel and see the world. But then when you come back home, you appreciate it that much more. We stepped right back into it, and it was like 'Oh yeah, I remember this. This is home.'"
"Once we got into the studio," Chief Xcel recalls, "everything flowed very naturally. We just got in there and kind of let the album make itself. When we were in the studio together, it was pretty effortless, because we know each other so well creatively. We wrote about 60 songs for this record, and went with the ones that we felt strongest about. And about 90 per cent of it is live tracks; it's probably the fewest samples I've ever used on a record."
"X gave me the beats, and I just went in and wrote every day," Gift of Gab states. "There was not a lot of thought or planning this time, it was more about action. It was just, as soon as it moves you, you write something. There was not a whole lot of thought put into it. It was more like 'OK, let's create.'"
"We're like two kids who've been playing basketball together since the second grade, and now they're in the NBA so they really know each other and can anticipate each other's next move," Chief Xcel says of his and Gab's enduring partnership. "It's totally instinctive, and we kind of communicate without talking. I know just from his physical reaction, when he hears a beat or a song, if there's a spark or if he feels inspired. And vice versa; he can tell by my immediate reaction if we've hit the mark or not. That just comes from time."
With Imani, Vol. 1 demonstrating that Blackalicious is as potent a creative entity as ever, Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel are embracing their return to the spotlight, and looking forward to reconnecting with their loyal, demographically diverse fan base.
"I think that this album is coming from a very honest place, and I really think that this is the most creative and prolific point of our careers, so we're really excited about it," Chief Xcel says, adding, "The next year or two, it's gonna be a nonstop balance of touring and being in the studio working on Volumes 2 and 3. We're definitely looking forward to seeing how things evolve and change."
"In my opinion, this is one of our best records," Gift of Gab agrees. "It's been a long time, we worked hard on it, and I hope that people enjoy it. People will come up to us and say 'Yo, that record changed my life' or 'That record helped me to get sober' or 'That record started me on a spiritual journey.' People say personal stuff like that, and we take it seriously."
"Our audience seems to be people who see music and art as essential parts of life, and not just disposable accessories," Chief Xcel concludes. "That's who we make music for—people who need music in their life. I'm one of those people. Imani is Swahili for faith, and that's really where we're at at this juncture. We're so rooted in our purpose that we don't have to second-guess, we just know. There's no fear of the unknown, there's just the fire to move forward and get to wherever the journey takes us."