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Blackalicious’ Gift of Gab, a Celebrated MC, Dies at Age 50

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Blackalicious' Gift of Gab (L) and Chief Xcel (R). (Nicole Mago)

Known for his quick-witted, tongue-twisting rhymes, rapper Gift of Gab from the duo Blackalicious made a mark on underground hip-hop well beyond his home base in Northern California. Today, his music collective Quannum announced that the MC, real name Timothy Parker, died from natural causes at age 50 on June 18, over a year after he received a kidney transplant.

“He is survived by two brothers, one sister, many nieces and nephews, countless friends, and fans across the globe,” tweeted Gift of Gab’s longtime friend and collaborator Lateef the Truthspeaker, calling him one of the greatest rappers ever. “We ask that the family’s privacy is respected as we mourn the tremendous loss of our dear brother.”

Artists and fans took to social media to pay homage to Gift of Gab. “In an industry with so many frauds and followers, Tim Parker was more than just original; he was unique,” DJ Shadow wrote in a statement. “And he was, quite simply, the most preternaturally gifted MC I’ve ever worked with. Gab loved to think of life as just a momentary stage of a much longer journey, and all its trials and tribulations as ‘training’ for the adventures to come after. If there’s one thing I know, wherever Gab is, he’s SOARING right now. We love and miss you, Tim.”

Born and raised in Sacramento, Gift of Gab founded the group Blackalicious with Chief Xcel in the early ’90s after the pair met in high school. While Chief Xcel was a student at UC Davis, the duo connected with Lyrics Born and DJ Shadow. Blackalicious’ 1999 album Nia brought them national acclaim, leading to a deal with Universal Music’s MCA Records and the follow-up album Blazing Arrow, and they became key figures in a subculture that prized the craftsmanship of hip-hop. Gab was known as a master of complex, imaginative lyricism and elaborate, multi-syllabic rhymes, as he deftly demonstrated on Blackalicious’ “Alphabet Aerobics.”

The group remained prolific despite Gift of Gab’s health issues. After years of managing his diabetes, he was diagnosed with kidney failure in 2012, and recorded Blackalicious’ album Imani Vol. 1 and his 2018 solo project, Rejoice! Rappers Are Rapping Again!, while on dialysis.

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The group continued to tour until last year. In January 2020, Gift of Gab happily announced that he’d be receiving a kidney transplant at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, and crowdfunded for caregiver and hotel costs for his recovery. He offered his GoFundMe donors exclusive access to his solo EP, Offering, and hinted that there would be another Blackalicious album.

His 2015 interview with KQED revealed an unrelentingly optimistic attitude. “This whole thing man, life is all about turning negatives into positives,” Gift of Gab said at the time. “We’re all gonna be handed obstacles. It’s just what you do with them.”

“He’s the most prolific person I’ve ever known,” Chief Xcel said in a statement published by Rolling Stone. “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.”

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