Blackalicious' Chief Xcel: "Music Is an Endless Quest . . . You Will Never Know Everything"

Xavier Mosley (a.k.a. Chief Xcel) has always been about the craft. Known as one of the co-founders of Quannum MCs, Xcel has helped carve out lanes for artists like Lyrics Born, Pigeon John, and DJ Shadow.

As the DJ/producer half of the legendary hip-hop duo, Blackalicious (which also features the lyrically blessed Gift of Gab), Xcel has provided soundscapes for timeless masterpieces such as "Deception" and "A to G." Attempting to do it again with Blackalicious' highly anticipated new LP "Imani", as well as a slew of other projects lined up this year, Chief Xcel plans on taking his sound to the next level.

Up On The Sun had a chance to have quick chat with Xcel on the road recently, and we asked him about the rise of the DJ in recent years, some of his favorite producers and what it takes to be a Quannum MC.

Chief Xcel, how have you been?

I'm good man, just working hard on the next album. We are going to mastering in couple of weeks, so we are kind of in the final stages right now.

I assume you are referring to IMANI, the long awaited Blackalicious album?


Awesome, what kind we expect from that album, sonically?

With each record that we do, we always try make it the next step. We have always tried to look at it in terms of building a body of work as opposed to just a collection of records. So this album [IMANI] is sort of like the next chapter.

Who are some of your favorite producers, either currently or all time?

I would also have to include Large Professor, The Bomb Squad, DJ Pooh, Mike Mosley, Timbaland, Just Blaze, Dan The Automator...Those are just a few of them.

With the art of DJing being a complicate and under-appreciated one, how do you feel about it becoming so mainstream over the last few years?

I think that it's kind of the natural progression of things especially as technology makes the artform more accessible. Before, there were a lot of barriers of entry just because of the difficulty of the skillset you had to have in order to do it well. Now with technology the bar is set a lot lower because less of a skill set is required. It's just what it is.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out as a DJ?

You have to really respect the craft. If I want to play Saxophone, I'm going to study Charlie Parker, I'm going study John Coltrane, I'm going to study Jorge Coleman. These are all of the greats who came through and laid the foundation for what is happening today. So you can't really call yourself a DJ without knowing the Afrika Bambaataa or a Jazzy Jay, these are forefathers that really laid the foundation of this culture. So I would start there.

So pretty much study your roots?

Study your roots but also be sure to study all music. Music is an endless quest, you will never know everything, you will never know every record but it's an incredible journey just trying to.

As a founder of Quannum MCs, you have housed some of the most unique sounds in hip hop including Lyrics Born and Pigeon John. What do you look for when bringing a new artist under the fold?

All of the emcees on Quannum are very unique. None of them are interchangeable, they have distinct artistic personalities. Uniqueness is what we look for...that something special in someone.

What else can we expect from you this year?

Quite a bit, we are working on the next Lifesavas album after we finish the Blackalicious project. Next week, I'll be working with a legendary emcee whom has had a profound impact on hip hop. I don't want to say anymore so we can keep the surprise. I have several collaborations coming out this year as well as work in TV and Film. It's 24/7 creativity around here.

With all this going on, when do you find the time to crate dig?

Whether it's physically or whether or its online, I'm always searching for records and collections. It never stops, once you have the addiction, you have it for life. So Viva PHX is on Friday. What can we expect from Blackalicious on stage?

Lots of energy, we really hard to bring you what we like to consider the next dimension of what we do. When you hear a record or what you get when you listen to a song is one thing but when you interact with it live, it is another experience. So expect lots of energy.

Any shoutouts?

Big ups to everybody in Arizona, they have been long supporters of Blackalicious and Quannum throughout the decade. The first time we ever played in Arizona was when my man Z-Trip was a promoter out there and he brought us out for a show. He was the first person to ever bring us out there for a show, so we are looking forward to it.

Blackalicious is scheduled to perform on Friday at Crecent Ballroom during Viva PHX. Tickets are $25.

Click here for more Viva PHX coverage.

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Jaron is a musician, writer, promoter, videographer, and a founder of the like-minded collective and movement known as Starstruck.
Contact: Jaron Ikner