California duo still going strong

Long before Black Thought of the Roots set fire to the internet with his viral, 10-plus minute freestyle on Hot 97, Blackalicious dropped the 1999 track “Alphabet Aerobatics,” an A-to-Z exercise in verbal dexterity and song craft that begins with the Gift of Gab rapping, “Artificial amateurs aren't at all amazing,” and closes two minutes later with the nearly-out-of-breath MC exhaling, “zea-lots!” (My personal favorite bar: “Pummeling petty powder puffs in my prime/Quite quaint quotes keep quiet it's Quannum.”)

For nearly two decades, the California duo of Gab and DJ/producer Chief Xcel has combined these heady, high-concept ideas and technical prowess with tradition, operating as musical torch-bearers tasked with carrying the art form forward. Tracks such as “Blacka,” off Imani, Vol. 1, for instance, trace African-American history backwards to ancient Egypt, even as the strutting beat suggests a funkier future. Imani, from 2015, was released as part of a planned trilogy, so perhaps the pair will premiere a new track or two in concert here. (Don't Miss It)