Blackalicious, Melodica

Hua Hsu

By Hua Hsu

on 08.24.12 in Reviews
A ’94 EP with a rare poignancy, reissued

The Bay Area’s DIY Solesides collective aspired to make a movement of their casual, self-reflective rhymes and meticulous, patchwork beats, like a more everyman version of the East Coast’s Native Tongues posse. While this might not sound like a particularly revolutionary gesture now, when Melodica was released in 1994, its emotional transparency and devotion to craft were startling. “Lyric Fathom” established the affably furious Gift of Gab as someone capable of rhyming, mocking and sing-songing rings around foes. There was a playful air — “I’m large as a hippopotamus,” Gab confesses, before coaxing your grandma into doing backflips — that belied his intense commitment to being the most dexterous, technically perfect rapper in the room. “Swan Lake” — co-produced by Solesides comrade DJ Shadow and Gab’s partner Chief Xcel — was Melodica‘s high point, a five-minute manifesto for simple, “inner” pleasures and “peace of mind.” Though it’s an EP, Melodica feels much longer. Part of this is due to the leisurely, samples-galore pace of the songs themselves — Melvin Van Peebles speechifies through the last minute of “Attica Black” while “Swan Lake,” which stitches together five different covers of the Stylistics’ “People Make the World Go Round,” rides out with an extended shout-out to crew and loyal well-wishers. But the boozy confessions of “40 oz. for Breakfast” and the everyday aspirationalism of “Attica Black” give Melodica a rare emotional poignancy. That feeling is underscored in this reissue, which features Blackalicious rarity “Changes,” wherein Gab reflects on what he has learned about self-responsibility over some woozy soft-psych.