Blackalicious' Gift of Gab, 'Alphabet Aerobics' rapper, dies at 50
Gift of Gab, the verbally dexterous rapper known as half of the Bay Area hip hip duo Blackalicious, has died. He was 50.
"It is with heavy hearts and great sadness that we announce the passing of our dear brother, Timothy J. Parker a.k.a. The Gift of Gab," the hip hop collective Quannum, of which he was also a member, said in a joint statement. "Tim peacefully departed this earth to be with our ancestors on Friday, June 18, 2021. He is survived by two brothers, one sister, many nieces and nephews, countless friends, and fans across the globe. We ask that the family's privacy is respected as we mourn the tremendous loss of our dear brother."
Born in Sacramento in 1971, Parker met his future bandmate Xavier Mosley, later known as Chief Xcel, in high school in the 1980s. The two formed Blackalicious in 1992 while Mosley was attending the University of California, Davis, and released their debut single "Swan Lake" two years later.
A series of EPs followed, including 1999's A2G, which featured the duo's most famous track "Alphabet Aerobics." The song was a showcase for Gift of Gab, who rapped a fast-paced, tongue-twisting set of lyrics progressing through the letters of the alphabet in order. ("Artificial amateurs, aren't at all amazing / Analytically, I assault, animate things / Broken barriers bounded by the bomb beat / Buildings are broken, basically I'm bombarding," his verse begins.) The song became a viral sensation in 2014 after Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe performed it on The Tonight Show.
Blackalicious' debut album Nia arrived in 1999, receiving widespread acclaim. "Answering gangsta nihilism with Afro-psychedelic activism, the long-awaited CD from these DJ Shadow affiliates defines the West Coast indie rap aesthetic," Will Hermes wrote in an A-minus review for EW, calling the duo "a sort of Bay Area Eric B and Rakim."
A major-label deal soon followed, and Blackalicious released their next album, Blazing Arrow, in 2002, featuring, among others, Gil Scott-Heron and Rage Against the Machine's Zack de la Rocha. In another A-minus review, EW's Evan Serpick wrote, "Hip-hop rarely sounds as joyful as when it pours from the mouths and decks of this Cali crew."
In addition to two more Blackalicious records, Gift of Gab went on to release three solo albums, starting with 2004's 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up, and two albums as part of the supergroups Quannum MCs and the Mighty Underdogs. The rapper also left behind nearly 100 tracks for future Blackalicious releases.
"Our brother was an MC's MC who dedicated his life to his craft. One of the greatest to ever do it," Chief Xcel said in a statement. "He's the most prolific person I've ever known. He was all about pushing the boundaries of his art form in the most authentic way possible. He truly believed in the healing power of music. He viewed himself as a vessel used by a higher power whose purpose was to give positive contributions to humanity through Rhyme."
Blackalicious most recently toured together in 2020, before the pandemic-forced shutdown. Having suffered from kidney failure in recent years, Gift of Gab received a new kidney in an operation on the last day of the tour in January that year. "Throughout the pandemic," a press release said, "he was always focused on the creative pursuit and getting back out to perform and interact with his fans."