June 2020

Mars Attacks

Words: Gabriel Knowles Images: Gift Of Gab

“It’s important for me to express my views, I don’t know if I look at it from a standpoint of needing to express things that other artists or musicians aren’t expressing. At the end of the day as a rapper and an artist with a voice – I’m an observer, so when I observe, I interpret what I observe. I’m not going to put anybody else down or talk about how hip-hop sucks or it’s dead or any of that shit!” If he wasn’t such a gifted lyricist Gift Of Gab you’d have to wonder if the voice behind Blackalicious is cut out for hip-hop. He’s nice, perhaps too nice, illustrated by his reluctance to outright criticise the vacuous path that mainstream hip-hop has taken, despite my best attempts.

“At the end of the day I see what I see and I interpret what I interpret. It’s important to me that when I do my music I’m being who I am.” The rapper explains from his Oakland home in northern California.

“I don’t ever want to come off like I’m trying to preach but as an artist you need to have things to communicate about. You need to be an observer of people, places and things. It’s not like I sit down and say I want to be political or socially conscious. I’m just a human being and if I see something and it moves me I’ll probably write about it. I just think it’s important for us to raise the level of consciousness and consideration of these things.”

And then there’s the notion that the man christened as Timothy Parker is a sci-fi nerd, a concept based the titles of his solo albums including his latest release Escape 2 Mars and his first 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up as well as early Blackalicious tracks like the prophetic Sky Is Falling. True to the form of all good online rumours, it’s not quite true. Fortunately there’s a deeper meaning behind the constant references to deep space.

“I’m always interested in consciousness expansion. I’ve always been interested in what we know and what we don’t know and how much we know and at the same time how little we know. And what else is really out there? What do we not know?” Gab poses. “We live in a universe with infinite expansion, with no beginning or end. If you look into the sky it has no beginning or end. When you look into the sky you’re looking into infinity. So what do we really know? How limited are we? People like to think the-be-all-and-end-all is to be a human being on planet earth. Where have we really been in the span of the universe which is limitless? So I’ve always been interested in consciousness expansion more so than space, higher awareness.”

Existential questions aside, Gab has never quite received the same acclaim for his solo work as he has for his role in Blackalicious, despite his rapid fire rhymes remaining a constant. Perhaps it’s due to audiences finding the Blackalicious collaborations with Chief Xcel slightly more palatable, or maybe it’s just that hardcore fans haven’t taken to futuristic, electronic tilting beats from Hednodic and DNAE BEATS. In any case you get the sense Gab sees it as all part of a bigger picture anyway, a metaphysical picture to be precise.

“A solo record is a different experience for me because I’m working with different producers and I’m getting out of my Blackalicious comfort zone” begins Gab, “I kind of equate it to travelling, I mean I live in the Bay Area which is one of the dopest places in America but I still love going to New York, Chicago, Sydney, Brisbane, I still love to travel but Blackalicious is home. We’re actually working on a new Blackalicious record right now, we’re like seven tracks in, it’ll be out in 2011. It’s always good to be able to travel and experience other things and musically work with other producers and vibe off of their chemistry, it’s always a healthy thing.”

It was on his actual travels that the seeds of Escape 2 Mars were sown, with Gab becoming acutely aware of the role that we all have to play in protecting the planet.

“On Escape 2 Mars, the title song, which is really about global warming came about when Blackalicious did a fundraising tour for global warming and around that time I saw an Inconvenient Truth and that’s when I wrote that song. So at that point that’s what was in my head.”

“I think it needs to be a world thing. I think that countries that are all about themselves, it’s like a gang mentality, it’s like gangs flying flags. At the end of the day we’re all part of the human race and we’re here on this planet. I think that America has the same role that Australia has, or Mexico, or Cuba, or all of Africa, everyone has a role to play. It’s our planet.”

Gift Of Gab plays Oxford Art Factory in Sydney on June 11, X&Y Bar in Brisbane on June 12 and The Corner Hotel in Melbourne on June 13

Gift Of Gab

Next story: Everyday Objects – Matt Hinkley