It’s a sign of the times when rap’s tightest lyricists make excuses on the dolo for their microphone finesse. Blackalicious’s the Gift of Gab wields his rhyme like a weapon on knuckleheaded retards while making a facetious apology for not bringing a gat along. And true to his name, he does it not by offending, but through stinging verbs and acerbic metaphors. He out-tongues Twista over a flow-revving Digital Underground sound, and rhymes like Busta with more breath control; by the time he reaches the end of his poetic line in tracks like “Stardust,” you’re the breathless one.

Without production partner Xcel on 4th Dimensional Rocketship Going Up, Gift’s a Northern California B-boy with a jazz and funk jones gully enough to slip a breakbeat’s back. Tracks like “The Writz,” relying on awkward interpolations of classics for hooks, don’t fully fly. But “Just Because” provides an out-of-body experience akin to “dipping your third eye into a tab of liquid acid for some psychedelic clarity to breathe amongst the madness.”