Hip-hop has changed in countless ways over the past decade, but with the influential Sacramento duo Blackalicious back at it after a long hiatus, it’s unsurprising their return has been a triumphant success so far. After all, the music of rapper Gift of Gab and DJ/producer Chief Xcel always existed outside typical notions of what rap is. They debuted with the 1994 EP Melodica, released on the defunct but legendary indie label Mo’ Wax, and eventually dropped their first full-length in 1999’s Nia. That LP, along with 2002’sBlazing Arrow and 2005’s The Craft, established Blackalicious as forerunners of “conscious rap” with an Afrocentric sensibility to boot, and Gab consistently proved himself to be a master of highly technical rapping. After Gab and Xcel went their separate ways in the mid-2000s, they returned last year with the warm, soulful boom bap of Imani Vol. 1, the first volume in an expected trilogy. In an era when conscious rap is often considered uncool, their sheer skillset and prevailing optimism sound positively timeless. With Lushlife.