Blackalicious tour revisits still-vital 1999 debut, 'Nia'

Andy Downing

Two decades back, Gift of Gab and producer/DJ Chief Xcel of Blackalicious set listeners adrift on memory bliss with their dreamy, hope-filled 1999 debut, Nia. “Even though your anxieties try to pull you down,” Gab rapped on “Making Progress,” which still plays as a spirited roadmap to better days, “see your troubles as a blessin’ and you’re homeward bound.”

Amid the cultural and political maelstrom that is 2019, Gab’s prescriptive verses feel as essential as ever, whether he’s rapping about bettering the standing of black America (“Let your light keep shinin’ and remember the past/By any means necessary we’ll be free at last”), the ills of capitalism (“Dollar bill done drove the whole world crazy”) or the difficulty of remaining creatively engaged in an ego-driven industry that often rewards the lowest common denominator (“Now his only one concern is going platinum/… Content, just as long as fame and cash come”).

Considering the circumstances, it seems appropriate that the duo is celebrating its 20-year-old debut on its current tour, which stops at Ace of Cups tonight, Dec. 3. This stretch of dates is a rare look back for the forward-pushing pair, whose most recent album, Imani: Vol. 1, from 2015, took its title from the Swahili word for “faith” and featured tracks on which the pair explored the concept as colored by Gab’s 2012 brush with kidney failure, which is another way to say that the two have avoided the ego-driven pitfalls they once rapped about on their introductory LP. Here’s hoping the rest of society catches up.

Ace of Cups

8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 3

2619 N. High St., Old North

ALSO PLAYING: J. Rawls, TrigNO, Nova