Like a few other West Coast rap acts, including the Pharcyde and Jurassic 5, Blackalicious have generally favored what hip-hoppers call the "positive tip"; in other words, their lyrics have often been spiritual and uplifting rather than violent or misogynistic. Like a lot of experimental alternative rappers, Blackalicious can be quirky and eccentric; nonetheless, spirituality is a big part of the group's music. Although Blackalicious weren't formed until the early '90s, their members had known each other since the late '80s. Founding members Gift of Gab (Timothy Parker) and Chief Xcel (Xavier Mosley) first met in Sacramento, California, in 1987 when they were students at John F. Kennedy High School. Neither of them was originally from Sacramento; DJ/producer Xcel (who was going by DJ IceSki at the time) was a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, while rapper Gift of Gab was from Los Angeles' suburban San Fernando Valley.
The two went their separate ways after Gift of Gab (also known as Gabby T) graduated from Kennedy High in 1989, but they were reunited in Davis, California, in 1992. By that time, Xcel had become a student at the University of California at Davis and the Gift of Gab had moved to Davis to form Blackalicious with him. UC Davis was where Xcel had started working with a hip-hop crew named SoleSides, whose members included DJ Shadow, Lateef the Truth Speaker, and Lyrics Born. SoleSides Records was the name of the SoleSides Crew's Northern California record company, and in 1994 that label released Blackalicious' debut single, "Swan Lake." Although not a triple-platinum smash, the single was a small underground hit that fared well among alternative rap audiences. The following year, SoleSides Records released a Blackalicious EP titled Melodica. By late 1997 SoleSides Records had transformed into Quannum Records, and in 1999 Quannum put out another Blackalicious EP, A2G.