Halfway through a characteristically killer set from opener Reef the Lost Cauze [pictured, above], the Philly rap artist noted, “I expected more Black people! There’s not a lotta Black people here for a band called Blackalicious!” Reef’s rap swings hard and pulls nothing, offering in his trademark explosive delivery shrewd social commentaries that tend not to dodge the uncomfortable, even if he affixes a modicum of self-aware humor at the end — the spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.
His observation on the crowd was only half in jest. Wherever they stand with black audiences, Gift of Gab’s Cali crew has seen some more overall popularity in recent years, due in part to a bizarre 2014 appearance Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe on Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show,” where he “rapped” — no, that’s generous, even in quotes, let’s say “recited” — the lyrics to “Alphabet Aerobics,” a track from their 1999 debut EP A2G.
It’s a track that showcases Gab’s skills as the one of the fastest tongues of hip hop, for which he’s garnered renown over the past couple decades. Touring now in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of their first full-length record Nia, he and DJ Chief XCel sound as vital as ever on singalong-ready hits like “Deception,” and the Harry-Nilsson-sampled “Blazing Arrow,” and the mind-blowing “Chemical Calisthenics,” making Tom Lehrer’s “The Elements” sound like amateur hour. Pushing 50, Gab’s still got it. — JOSH PELTA-HELLER