In the absence of its accompanying music video, you would be forgiven if you assume that “On Fire Tonight,” the newest single from Bay Area hip-hop stalwarts Blackalicious (featuring Myron), is a straightforward party jam. Indeed the track’s buoyant, never-ceasing groove and concise form (three choruses, two verses and out) suggest as much. Plus, the song’s overtly political content is mostly contained within Gift of Gab’s verses, which are delivered in the emcee’s signature rapid-fire style, at times to the brink of unintelligibility. If you’re looking for three minutes of high-octane, head-bopping music, an audio-only version of “On Fire Tonight”—which can be found on the group’s latest album Imani, Vol. 1—fits the bill.
Add the music video (directed by James Connelly) back into the mix, though, and the visual redefines the aural. Powerful images of recent incidents of police brutality and the ensuing protests flash across the screen during the choruses, offering a grave reinterpretation of what it means to be “on fire tonight.”
It’s fair to wonder whether the imagery that accompanies the verses—silhouettes of Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel alternating with naked, dancing female figures—is incongruous when juxtaposed with the more politically charged footage. But Gift of Gab recently explained the curious inclusion of nudity to The Source, clarifying that “We wanted the video to be a celebration of blackness, as well as a celebration of raising awareness. We wanted to show beautiful Black women and how powerful they are.”
Even if the video for “On Fire Tonight” doesn’t completely cohere, however, its age-old combination of provocative and catchy proves potent once again.
Watch the video in full below, and be sure to catch Blackalicious on the remaining dates of their current tour.