British actor Daniel Radcliffeâ€”best known for playing Harry Potter in all eight of the Harry Potter filmsâ€”bravely took The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon stage in 2014 and destroyed the Blackalicious song â€œAlphabet Aerobicsâ€ with the help of backing band The Roots.
Recreating Gift of Gabâ€™s lyrical gymnastics on the 1999 NIA track was no easy task, but Radcliffe rose to the challenge, earning a roar of applause along the way. Before Radcliffe showed off his rhyming skills, Fallon noted â€œAlphabet Aerobicsâ€ was one of the â€œtrickiest, fastest songsâ€ he knew, an accurate assessment.
Gift Of Gab was born with an innate ability to rattle off words like water cascading from a waterfallâ€”hence his well chosen rap moniker. Rhyming was his passion. It was his art. It was his, yes, gift.
But his life was brought to an unexpected end on June 18 when he died of natural causes at 49 years old, roughly 16 months after receiving a double kidney transplant. The news rippled through the Hip Hop community like an aftershock. After all, Gab sounded strong and was anxious to get back on the road where he could reconnect with his fans again. Like his peers, the raging COVID-19 pandemic had him holed up for over a year but being on anti-rejection drugs made his situation even more precarious, and he was rarely able to leave his home for fear of contracting the potentially fatal disease.
As Quannum Projects family members such as DJ Shadow, Lateef The Truthspeaker, Lyrics Born and Blackalicious partner Chief Xcel grappled with the enormous loss, Gabâ€™s team was busy putting together his first posthumous release, Finding Inspiration Somehow. As the title suggests, even through kidney failure, the subsequent transplant and paralyzing COVID-19 pandemic, Gab was able to dig deep into his creative well and produce some of his most powerful work to date.
Much of it was written from the dialysis center where Gab would sit for hours three times a week as a machine removed the toxins from his blood, something he faced on the albumâ€™s second single â€œAlchemy,â€ one of the first times he really goes into detail about his condition.
But in true Gift of Gab form, he put a positive spin on it with lines such as â€œThe sun still shines and the skyâ€™s still blue/I still write rhymes and the crowds still come and still feel young and I still donâ€™t feel like Iâ€™m halfway done/In a marathon of thoughts/Hey, halfwayâ€™s one step into infinity, run, run, run/Lifeâ€™s really all about your perception/Iâ€™ll be making fresh songs while Iâ€™m counting blessings.â€
Accented by light flute notes, the frenentic beat provides a feeling of urgency for Gabâ€™s voice to ride and makes it painfully obvious just how delicate his health was at the time. But those moments are few and far between. Like most of Blackaliciousâ€™ catalog, Gab continually aims to uplift, especially on album highlight â€œYou Gonâ€™ Make it In The Endâ€ featuring Vursatyl and Lateef The Truthspeaker.
Gab does what he does best with the hook when he reminds his listeners to, â€œPush forth, push forward, move on/Push through, live up, live long/Rise up, be more, be strong, go hard/Fight odds, keep on,â€ a message he likely applied to himself as well. Musically, producer Nick Andre brilliantly enlisted the sounds of a live stand-up bass to replace the trackâ€™s original electronic version then added the keys and strings for a swanky lounge aesthetic.
But those 4:50 minutes of chill are short-lived. The following track, â€œVice Grip,â€ bustles in like a freight train and finds Gab hungrier than ever, rapping with the voracity of a Asiatic lion. From there, the album goes into the â€™80s-heavy bop â€œThe World Without Moneyâ€ produced by Headnodic, another strong offering from Gab who insists â€œmoney should not define who you areâ€ as he imagines a life without capitalism.
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Then thereâ€™s the reggae-tinged â€œSlaughtah Dem (Godly)â€ featuring Wingstrom and delicate piano and speaker-rattling bass on â€œGoing Fartherâ€ that allows Gift of Gabâ€™s lyrics to soar, proving what makes him so revered by fellow wordsmiths.
Or â€œThe Gentrification Song (Remix),â€ which is pleasantly reminiscent of the magic of â€œMake You Feel That Wayâ€ off 2002â€™s Blackalicious classic Blazing Arrow. Much like the sharp observations on â€œThe Idea Of America Is Beautifulâ€ in which he eloquently spells out Americaâ€™s shortcomings, the organ-laden â€œGentrification Song (Remix)â€ cooly addresses his every day musings on the Bay Areaâ€™s transformation as the gentrification process continues.
â€œItâ€™s like this place has lost the essence of the place Iâ€™m from,â€ he laments. But then heâ€™s quickly back to appreciating life with the Curtis Mayfield-sounding â€œA Weekend In Venice,â€ which finds Gab looking back on a brief weekend romance in Italy.
Nearly every song on the project benefits from tight song structure, Gabâ€™s lazer sharp rhymes and introspective explorations but slips a little with â€œEnter The Dragonâ€ featuring Quannum singer Joyo Velarde. The chaotic production toward the end buries Gabâ€™s lyrics, leading to an overall muddled effect. â€œBreathe In,â€ while undeniably catchy, also borders on too much of a â€œKumbayaâ€ moment with its Jack Johnson vibe.
Eerily enough, the album ends with the somber yet gorgeously layered â€œBack To The Light,â€ an intriguing title considering heâ€™s no longer with us in physical form. But itâ€™s Gabâ€™s belief in an afterlife that almost makes it easier to digest his absence. Heâ€™d be the first to say, â€œYou know this isnâ€™t the end, right?â€
Finding Inspiration Somehow could have also been titled Finding Inspiration Everywhere. Gabâ€™s penchant for delivering diverse soundscapes is inherent, and like a wide-eyed child, he pulled ideas from everywhere and everyone around him. He was a prime example of an MC who could murder any beat and a human who could elevate someoneâ€™s mood with just one conversation. While his voice will be missed, it will live on in his music, the greatest gift he could have left behind.
@TruthspeakerHQ and the much missed Gift Of Gab â€“ two of the finest rappers of their generation. Check out Gab’s new album. It’s excellent. https://t.co/fpY7Yc5sHC
â€” The Gaslight Troubadours (@GaslightTroubs) September 10, 2021
RIP Gift of Gab. Thank you for this album. You left knowing we needed it.https://t.co/Rl7ItJeXr5
â€” matt oak (@mattoak) September 15, 2021
Rest in power King ðŸ‘‘- Gift ðŸ’ Of Gab â€“ BOOM ðŸ¤¯- Enjoy â˜ºï¸- Youâ€™re welcome ðŸ˜‡- One â˜ðŸ¾ of the best yet hands ðŸ™ŒðŸ¾ down get familiar! This album ðŸ’¿ is dope he recorded it while battling severe medical issues his condition worsened over time but he completed it.https://t.co/TUyul9Zzvp
â€” Neville Oliver (@oliver_neville) September 15, 2021