Gift of Gab speaks with Infinite Verbal Style [Interview]
Vancouver, B.C. – Gift of Gab was the first MC I ever wanted to interview, but he’s always been just out of reach. In some ways I’ve considered him the Moby Dick to my Captain Ahab, but ten years after I started pondering that, it finally happened. I got ten minutes with the lyrical overlord and he very patiently answered the questions I’d been sitting on for so long. We talked about style and symbols, the difference between lyricism and language and the repercussions of speaking positive truths.
HipHopCanada: The Blackalicious album Blazing Arrow was really the album that let me see how intellect, poetic creativity and hip-hop could meld. Is this a gateway album for people?
Gift of Gab: Yea I’ve heard a lot of people say that, I’ve heard a lot of people say they’ve never listed to hip-hop but they’ve listened to the Blackalicious record you know which is really an honor cause I’m a fan of so many other groups that came before and after me, you know what I mean so, to hear people say that is cool – bring people in, that’s wassup.
HipHopCanada: Why do you think that is?
Gift of Gab: Um, I dunno, I think Blazing Arrow was a record that a lot of music lovers can like because it’s so different: it’s hip-hop but it’s just, you know musically it’s just so many directions, it’s songs that people who love rock can really get into it’s a lot of musicality in that record. I think music lovers would be drawn to that record because it’s a lot of it, it’s hip-hop but it’s a lot of things that are going on that just involve good music.
HipHopCanada: Growing up, what parts of your surroundings helped you to appreciate language on the level that you seem to?
Gift of Gab: I dunno that I’ve ever in my life thought to myself that I’ve had an appreciation for language. (Laughs) You know I have an appreciation for lyricism, for song writing and lyricism and some poetry, but I guess that’s all language. You know I guess that’s all for me, I would say it’s more so about the appreciation for lyricism and song writing and that goes back to the first hip-hop record I ever heard which was obviously late but I was on the west coast: “Rappers Delight,” as well as Kurtis Blow “Da Breaks” and soon as I heard that I was automatically hooked on the art form and just watching it evolve, and I’m a style junkie so I’m into styles and cadences. I would say my appreciation is more based on that. I guess I mean the English language is great, but I never really looked at it like “oh I’m intrigued by the English language,” you know what I mean?
HipHopCanada: Are there any words or symbols that you find to be recurring motifs in your songs?
Gift of Gab: Nobody asked me, that’s a good question; nobody ever asked me that question. I guess, you know, the word style, the word infinite, the word verbal, I (laughs) use those words a lot. Obviously I started as a battle MC so there are times when I’m just doing rhymes on a competitive level, competing with either other MCs or competing with myself, that’s something I often go back to just to kinda sharpen my skills, and make sure that I can I can always compete.
HipHopCanada: Those three words alone seem to build a natural trajectory…verbal, style, infinite…where does this lead?
Gift of Gab: Wow, you are asking some heavy questions tonight. I think an artist has a direct point to the infinite. Whether it’s painting, whether it’s song writing, whether it’s sculpting, I think song writers in particular they, and poets, and story tellers have the ability to channel something that that’s not really you…you start to create, and you start to feel like this is not me, you know, even photographers you get, even athletics, you get caught up in a zone, and whatever that energy is, takes you over, and you start to find yourself doing something and you find yourself stepping outside of yourself and actually observing yourself doing it. I think any, all art, has that possibility to link in to in the infinite, cause really when I say freestyle or write a rhyme, it’s more like I’m eavesdropping, I’m hearing something in my head, and it’s just coming out of my head really fast out of my mouth but where did it come from? It didn’t grow – physically, you know what I mean, out of my arm, so that’s how I look at that.
HipHopCanada: With the famous “Chemical Calisthenics” track it seems like you have an interest in science; how do science and art work in tension?
Gift of Gab: You know I’m not really a big science buff, um science is how things are put together, how things can be explained. I kinda am the reverse, I kinda look to things by faith you know, obviously one plus one equals two. I can’t say I’m a big science buff…now the word science, replying to art or replying to rhyming, I think there’s a science to it, but I think that science involves passion, dedication, a real love of what you do, and also something that grows and kinda evolves over a period of time as you continue to do it and you go deeper into it. If you’re playing a video game, the first couple of times you play it, your not gonna get into it, but if you start playin it over and over, it goes back to that you’re automatically connected somehow and you just, you don’t have to try anymore its like effortless, you know…
HipHopCanada: What is a concrete way in which you see positive lyricism reflecting back into the community?
Gift of Gab: Well I know that I grew up listening to Public Enemy, BDP, and groups that had positive messages. I know that a lot of kids today are listening to maybe even my stuff or some other-other groups you know, to hear them come up. I used to wanna live a certain way based on listening to certain artists. I was like, yo I’m feelin it, I’m feelin that’s the type of person that I wanna be or become like. I think that artists have a power that can influence the youth, the young kids that are listening to their music. They’re gonna listen, they’re gonna take in what the person is saying. Maybe not apply it all the time but at least a small seed may have been planted that might affect their judgment in a certain situation.
HipHopCanada: So what are you up to now?
Gift of Gab: Right now I’ve been doing a lot of one-off shows, I just did Reno, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Vancouver right now, Chicago is next, Minneapolis. And finishing my next solo project which is entitled The Next Logical Progression. Really, really happy with this record. With my man G-Cool who is a producer and plays every instrument, he can basically play anything, just give him a melody and he’ll knock it out. It’s been a really interesting process, it’s been different than any other record I’ve done. Really soulful record. I’m hoping to get that out in the fall of this year at the latest. And Blackalicious is in the works of our next full-length album which will likely be out in 2012, no title yet. Just staying busy, staying creative, staying traveling, life is good.
Interview conducted by Amalia Judith for HipHopCanada
Photography by Jamie Sands for HipHopCanada