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In the past, Blackalicious' Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel wasted a lot of breath dissing mainstream rap, but the crew's latest album focuses on broader themes. The current single, "Make You Feel That Way," works like an intimate list of meditation topics, listing concepts and actions that convey love in a personal way. "Brain Washers" (featuring guest vocalist Ben Harper) attempts to eliminate all traces of daily distraction. Blackalicious recognizes that it takes more than platitudes to approach real awareness, but at this point, the group rarely hits the complete-consciousness bull's-eye. Fortunately, colorful cameos (Gil Scott-Heron and Jaguar Wright, plus members of Jurassic 5 and Dilated Peoples) and blazing beats keep Blazing Arrow on target. Though the midtempo pace seems superficially laid-back, strong funk bass and slamming drums (as well as keys that whistle and explode and strings that saw nervously) keep things taut. Nowhere are the album's wonderful contradictions more clearly displayed than on "Release," which washes up against Jimi Hendrix's "1983" and crescendos to Zack de la Rocha's urgent calls to let go. "And grab hold of something new" follows "Gift of Gab," driving home the album's fundamental paradox and reward.
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Danny Alexander

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