First Listen: Gift of Gab, 'The Next Logical Progression'
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Half of the songs on The Next Logical Progression, the third solo album by one half of late-'90s rap duo Blackalicious, could be called into service as end credit music. Especially for a movie in which unlikely friendships are made and a Super Soaker battle is pivotal. The audience would take kindly to the lesson it had been taught, watch the outtakes reel for longer than usual and walk out of the theater with more emotions in its collective heart than it was expecting.
This a positive album, and I say that without conceding the trappings that come with the label (corny, naive, not "real") and denying the implications anything not labeled "positive" carries (unconscious, ugly, simple). The Next Logical Progression sounds like it's really nice outside. Brightly colored, major key, uptempo. Piano and organ samples predominate. Harmonica on a Stevie Wonder tip closes out "So So Much."
Gab's stories are not all unicorns and rainbows, but they do go down easy. On "Market & 8th" his verses are deft still lifes--the people he describes seeing at particular intersections in San Francisco are hurting, and the size and direction of the shadows they cast point fingers at us. Still, your shoulders will shimmy. "Effed Up," a song about feeling good when the woman who did you wrong ends up worse than you, is kind of horrific, including as it does the story of a woman who cheats on Gab then turns up pregnant, homeless and maybe mentally ill. At the same time, not one of us hasn't silently, insincerely, wished pain on the people that hurt us.
Gab has never been hugely famous, but he's certainly been widely respected and influential. He's not prolific, but he's been paying attention, so bits and pieces of rappers like Kentucky's Nappy Roots, New York's J-Live and Atlanta's Big Boi bubble up here, just as he does in their songs. This West Coast rapper puts word choice first, then molds his selections' sounds around his rhyme scheme. He is reflexively speedy and, like his California neighbor, E-40, often falls into tones that could double as auditions to voice cartoon characters.
The Next Logical Progression is an album that will cause a rash of people IM-ing about hip-hop "back in the day." It will be erected as a pillar in the well worn argument that hip-hop is better when it's melodic, the lyrics are multisyllabic and the import is feelgood. Even though infectious cheer like Gab's is more rare on commercial radio than it used to be, I don't think he is nostalgic. He's working the lane he knows to be his, exercising the gift that made his name.