Hip hop offers an escape for Blackalicious frontman Gift of Gab
It may be that Tim Parker needs less oxygen than an average human being. Parker, better known as Gift of Gab, often raps for what seems like an eternity without taking a breath. The vocal identity of Bay Area hip hop duo Blackalicious, Gift of Gab is recognized for his lightning-fast lyrical constructions and tongue twisting rhymes.
“I like to be an instrument of the beat,” Parker explains of his rapid-fire raps. “Different beats call for different cadences.” Indeed, the MC doesn’t always rap fast, and Parker denies that he possesses some kind of super-human lung capacity. “I’ve had (breath-holding) contests with other people; some of ’em I win, some of ’em I don’t.”
“You learn breath control,” he continues, explaining that he is often sneaking tiny breaths in between syllables. It is a method Parker has had many years to hone—he began rapping shortly after hearing The Sugarhill Gang in the early ’80s. “As soon as I heard ‘Rapper’s Delight’ I was hooked,” Parker remembers.
He wrote his first rap in response to an attack he sustained during a neighborhood rap battle. An older kid on Parker’s block was going around systematically insulting all the younger aspiring MCs. After the bully leveled his sights on the young Gift of Gab, it was on. “I went home, wrote the rhyme and then I rode my bike to his house,” Parker says. He lost several of the subsequent battles, but that didn’t discourage him. The world of hip hop had opened its doors to Parker, and he was enthralled.
“Hip hop is a culture, it’s a way of life,” Parker says. He uses hip hop to relate to the world around him. It serves as an outlet and a guide to life. He enjoys challenging himself to create innovative tunes and listens to other MCs he feels are pushing the limits of the genre. “I respect any artist that takes me out of myself,” he says, “any music that challenges my concept of what hip hop can be.”
As such, Parker seeks out producers that craft unique beats. “For me it’s all about a feeling,” he says of hearing a track that he likes for the first time. “As soon as I hear it, I know that I’m gonna go in on it. It’s an ‘Aha! This is what I was waiting to hear’ type of feeling.”
In Blackalicious, Gab works with producer Xavier Mosley, who goes by Chief Xcel. He is currently touring behind his latest solo release, Escape 2 Mars, which was produced by his onstage DJ, the San Francisco-based DNAEBEATS.
The title track of Gab’s new record imagines a post-apocalyptic and wretched Earth—wracked by environmental degradation. “Escape to Mars,” crooning doo-wop background singers intone, “it ain’t that far!”
Parker doesn’t aim to force his views on climate change down his listener’s throats. He says that he simply raps about what he is thinking about. At the time he was writing “Escape to Mars,” Parker had been reading up on global warming.
“I just speak my truth,” he says. “It’s not a directive. It’s the things I talk about with other people, and how I see life. I’m relaying information that I’m receiving.”
Parker has lived all over California. Growing up in the San Fernando Valley and Sacramento, the MC moved to Davis for a time after high school, where he experienced the college “vibe” without actually taking any classes. He has also lived in Los Angeles and has been based out of Oakland for the last 12 years.
He says that his multiple residences and cross-country tours have broadened his perspective on the world. Ultimately, however, he is proud of his home:
“I rep California,” he says.
Gift of Gab performs at 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door. For more information, call 479-1854.
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