Four and a half stars
In 2003-2004, Quannum records did no wrong. Albums by The Lifesavas, Lyrics Born, The Maroons, and Gift of Gab garnered widespread acclaim and catapulted the record label to a new level. An absolutely mind-blowing, life-altering, existence-reaffirming tour with nearly the whole crew displayed the cohesiveness, brotherhood, and outright talent of this label.
One cannot deny, though, the significant role that Blackalcious' Nia and Blazing Arrow played in giving 2003-2004 the forum in which to shine. I remember hearing of Blackalicious on a very obscure Philly jamband's listeserv, and within a year, Best Buy was advertising Blazing Arrow in their newspaper inserts. Added to that, the inspiring, smooth as silk vocal delivery and classic funk-based beats hooked this listener immediately, making this duo one of my favorite hip-hop acts of all time.
The Craft continues in the spirit of its parents. Well, probably more like ancestors, as The Craft is more of a logical progression than the progeny of the last two efforts.
Once again, music masters Gift of Gab and Chief X-Cel focus heavily on expanding the evident influences, and styles of music. "Powers" is a 70s soul/funk masterpiece which, at moments, brings to mind many modern electronic (by no means techno!) and Dirty South hip-hop tones.
Many other tracks, like "Side to Side", "The Fall and Rise of Elliott Brown" (which is also one of the obligatory Gift at lightspeed tracks), and "Egosonic War Drums" (THE obligatory lightspeed track) also represent a voyage into un-chartered territories, and all with success.
"Black Diamonds and Pearls" with its well known vocal sample, and "Rhythm Sticks" display that well-known Blackalicious sound I fell in love with.
So, the end result of it all? I can't rate this album as high as the two classics that came before it. Though I enjoy the new experimenting, and as always, the unparalleled flow of Gift combined with meticulous mixing and sample research from the Chief, on a whole, I don't feel the impact of the album as I did with the last two. It's not that this album is not worth your time or money, it is, and will be more so than many other hip-hop albums released this year. It's just that listening to Nia and Blazing Arrow is an experience of musical transcendence, and The Craft is a collection of really great songs. The old albums portray vivid identities, and The Craft impresses with its variety, and signature, unrivaled skill.
I really want to give this album four stars, simply because of the difference in how it first hit me compared to the previous two, but I realize that could be due to the fact that I am now used to Chief and Gift's remarkable ability, while the first two were purchased at the same time. In addition, I have yet to listen to a Quannum album without first thinking that there were just a number of great songs, before eventually realizing the entire albums were genius. Stars don't really matter here though (and not simply because of the 20 point differentials Amazon!) because once again, Quannum, Blackalicious, Gift of Gab, and Chief X-Cel have graced us with a refreshing glass of fun, funk, infectious beats, and the best flow in the biz. Time to get your drink on.