Gift of Gab: Blackalicious rapper known for masterful alphabet rhyming

Gift of Gab: Blackalicious rapper known for masterful alphabet rhyming
The musician’s energetic performances and talent for wordplay gained a significant following

Gift of Gab, born Timothy Jerome Parker, the Bay Area rapper known as one half of the duo Blackalicious, has died at the age of 50.

Parker “peacefully departed this earth to be with our ancestors” on 18 June, the hip-hop collective Quannum Projects, which he had been a part of since the late 1990s, announced in a statement last Friday. A representative for Blackalicious told Rolling Stone the lyricist died of natural causes.

His health struggles were well documented in recent years, the most significant being kidney failure which led to multiple runs on dialysis until Parker received a transplant in January 2020 – the same month Blackalicious played their final concert before coronavirus shuttered the world’s music industry.

“Our brother was an MC’s MC who dedicated his life to his craft. One of the greatest to ever do it,” Parker’s friend and Blackalicious bandmate Xavier “Chief Xcel” Mosley, a DJ and producer who co-founded Quannum, said in a statement. “He’s the most prolific person I’ve ever known.”

The pair teamed up in 1992, having met years earlier at high school in Sacramento, California, where Parker was born in 1970. They formed Blackalicious while Mosley attended the nearby University of California Davis, where they regularly collaborated with their fellow Davis-area artists DJ Shadow and Lyrics Born.

Blackalicious fast became known for Gift of Gab’s rhyming acrobatics and the duo went on to release several successful EPs before their much-admired first studio album, Nia, came out in 1999.

Arguably, though, Gift of Gab’s most acclaimed – and mindboggling – performance came via the pair’s 1999 EP A2G, in “Alphabet Aerobics”, where he delivered an uninterrupted rap in which the first letter of every word in each verse begins with the next in the alphabet.

The song gained a whole new audience in 2014 when the actor Daniel Radcliffe, best known for portraying Harry Potter in the film series, performed it from start to finish after being challenged by The Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon. The YouTube video of Radcliffe has been viewed more than 113 million times.

The rapper at the 2006 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival

In all, Blackalicious released four full-length albums: Nia (1999), Blazing Arrow (2002), The Craft (2005), and Imani Vol. 1 (2015). Parker also released several solo projects, including The Next Logical Progression (2012) and LPs with Quannum MCs and the Mighty Underdogs, another San Francisco Bay Area collective.

At the time of his death, according to Rolling Stone, Parker was sitting on over 100 tracks for future Blackalicious releases. “Some of those were already slated for the next release, but more of Gab’s lyrical genius will be heard for years to come,” a representative for the duo said in a statement.

Both Blackalicious’ and Parker’s longtime manager Brian Ross added separately: “He was one of the most positive human beings I have ever known and always looking toward the future. He was endlessly brimming with new ideas, philosophical perspectives, and thoughts about the future. He was always ready to learn, grow and engage in a deep conversation about things he was less familiar with. A simple conversation with him about nearly anything could take you places you would never have expected.”

Meanwhile, in a statement posted to Twitter, DJ Shadow praised his colleague and friend’s “perfect voice”.

“In an industry with so many frauds and followers, Tim Parker was more than just original; he was unique,” Shadow wrote. “And he was, quite simply, the most preternaturally gifted MC I’ve ever worked with.”

Parker is survived by two brothers, one sister, many nieces and nephews, countless friends, and fans across the globe, Quannum said, before asking that his “family’s privacy is respected as we mourn the tremendous loss of our dear brother”.

Gift of Gab, aka Timothy Jerome Parker, born 7 October 1970, died 18 June 2021

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