It's been a minute since the Gift of Gab's been on the spot and he couldn't be happier to be out amongst the people. A decade after Blackalicious' last album, The Craft, they've reunited for their upcoming fourth full-length, Imani.
There's another reason for Gab's upbeat mood – his kidneys failed three years ago, requiring a transplant.
It's the kind of thing that gives your attitude a heat check.
"It changed my perspective on health and on my mentality and how I'm looking at life," Gab says. "I've learned to look at the blessings and to live through the blessing, rather than live through what's going on that may be hard.
"It's been a period of growth for me," he says, "and I think it's definitely added to the album. Imani is all about faith."
The album, which comes out in September, takes its name from the Swahili word for faith and is also the final day of Kwanzaa. Gab penned his third solo album, The Next Logical Progression, while on a dialysis machine. The whole episode's sparked new artistic discipline.
"I used to write in spurts," he says. "I would wait until I got inspired, wait until that moment and then I would write a bunch of dope stuff."
Lately he's approached it more like a job, showing up whether he's inspired or not. While that might sound like a drag, it's actually quite freeing. He knows it won't all be dope, and he's cool with that. It's all about showing up.
"At that point you let the creativity take over," Gab says. "You think, what if this isn't dope? Then you have to realize that's not really up to me. The only thing that is up to me is to show up to the paper with a pen and try to feel it and create."
Putting yourself on the spot is essentially how Gab cut his teeth in hip-hop. Growing up in Sacramento in the early '90s, he gravitated toward the battle rap scene, honing his lyricism against other emcees.
"It definitely shaped the kind of emcee I came to be, because I grew up in an era where if someone else was an emcee, it wasn't like 'let's do a show,' it was 'OK, we have to battle now,'" he says, recalling his verbal tussles with his buddies Lyrics Born and Lateef the Truthspeaker. "Certain days, I would wake up and get on the phone like, let's rap."
Hip-hop has a name for this kind of on-the-job training, according to Gab. "It's called 'Show and Prove.'"
It may not have quite the same competitive bite as it did in Gab's youth, but that spirit still burns bright, catalyzed by his health scare. You wonder if he's been busy since then?
"I've got a mixtape and two solo albums finished right now, and I haven't even put the Blackalicious album out yet, so definitely," he chuckles.
Gab's intent of focusing on the blessings rather than the hardship gives the entire conversation wings. At this point, little brings him down.
"When I say I've been on dialysis, people look at me and say, 'oh no, oh no,'" Gab explains. "I look at them and say, 'Don't feel sorry for me. I do what I love to do for a living and I've been doing it for the past 20 years. I've got people in my life that care about me. My life is great.'"