Gift of Gab 

Escape 2 Mars 

Gift of Gab takes his syllable-splicing verbal skills in new directions on Escape 2 Mars, the follow-up to 2004's 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up. As MC of the Bay Area duo Blackalicious, Gift espoused positivity while earning a reputation as one of hip-hop's most exciting lyricists. He keeps the abstract righteousness going herealternating between live hip-hop and electro-influenced beats.

On the Latin-tinged "El Gifto Magnifico," Gift rips the clave-accented beat like he's on a mission to reclaim the crown as hip-hop's most acrobatic MC. While most of the album finds Gift in a more humble, reflective space, he flexes his braggadocio hard on the chorus of "El Gifto Magnifico." If it is the most fun track on Escape 2 Mars, then "Dreamin" is the finest song. Over a beat that sounds like hip-hop-meets-New Orleans funeral march, "Dreamin" features razor-sharp verses from Del tha Funky Homosapien and Brother Ali. Despite the guest turns, "Dreamin" recalls Blackalicious' more combustible moments.

Although the titles of his last two albums suggest that Gift is reinventing himself as a newfangled Sun Ra, most of the topical matter on Escape 2 Mars is earthly. The meddling "In Las Vegas" documents a summertime exodus to Sin City, while on conscientious tracks "Richman, Poorman" and "Somathapeople," Gift eloquently juxtaposes the contrasting fortunes of the songs' complex characters.       

Gift of Gab is assured and even-keeled on Escape 2 Mars — rarely reaching the intensity of Blackalicious' best work, nor descending into the mellow loungyness of 4th Dimensional Rocketships. While only his most loyal fans will consider it a must-cop release, it's great to hear another solid set from this underrated MC.


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