Review: The Love Movement

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All pretty good things come to an end, and that includes my reviews of each of A Tribe Called Quest’s studio albums. I will end this nice little segment with my take on Tribe’s last studio release, The Love Movement. It was announced before the release of this album that Tribe would break up. A difference in artistic interests, health concerns and some possible feuding with Jive Records were thought to contribute to the group’s split.

The Love Movement, released September 29, 1998 on Jive Records, was similar to Beats, Rhymes, Life in terms of its sound. The music production collective, The Ummah, was responsible for producing all 15 tracks on The Love Movement. Critics offered mostly positive reviews of Tribe’s last album release, noting that it sounded lighter than the trio’s last effort. However, those who loved Beats, Rhymes, Life wanted more of the same, and the sort of carefree sound and tone of The Love Movement didn’t give them that. A bonus disc containing six songs was included with the album, which was both gratifying and frustrating for their fans. The Love Movement was certified gold on November 1, 1998.

ATCQ’s final studio album begins with “Starts Up,” a simple song that features Q-Tip dropping verses over even simpler, thumping production. Luckily, the second song of the album rescued the mediocrity of the first.

Findaway

“Find A Way”

 “Find A Way” is the second song and first single from The Love Movement, and is one song that I still love to listen to. Sampling Japanese producer Towa Tei’s “Technova,” Tip and Phife Dawg take turns expressing confusion and even frustration because of their uncertainty pertaining to dealings with a member of the opposite sex. The visuals display as much. “Now you caught my heart for the evening/Kissed my cheek, moved in, you confuse things/Should I just sit out or come harder/Help me find my way…”

“Question: What is it that everybody has, and some pirates and thieves try to take?” Well, it’s “Da Booty,”, the third song on this album. The production is great, but the lyrics are rather forgettable. Busta Rhymes and Redman join the fray on “Steppin’ It Up,” and it’s their verses on the track that make it as dope as it is. The content of their bars is different from typical Tribe, but that’s what adds to its great sound.

“Like It Like That” is aided by The Ummah production and a very relaxed Q-Tip. The theme of The Love Movement was, well, love, and that was the focus of Tip on “Common Ground (Get It Going On).” After asking whether the listener has ever met a woman that took their breath, Tip lays out how to keep her: “Be a slave to her, don’t be brave to her/Make sure that she’s right, make sure that you’re wrong.” It’s more for those who pander, but advice, nonetheless.

I have always viewed “4 Moms” as an instrumental interlude, and I love that it featured Chalmers “Spanky” Alford, a celebrated jazz guitarist. Understandably, this probably made the cut more because of Ummah member J Dilla’s style. Regardless, I wish that each Tribe album had set aside two minutes for something similar.

The Love Movement simply did not need “His Name Is Mutty Ranks.” Phife, of Trinidadian descent, clearly tried to bring a little of that flavor to the album, but it failed. Horribly. The same can be said for the following track, “Give Me,” which featured rapper Noreaga. Forget the fact that I have never been a fan of Noreaga. I can’t stand campy hip-hop, and that goes double when it comes from Tribe.

Fortunately, ATCQ gets back to business on “Pad & Pen.” D-life delivers the intro and timely adlibs. How could you not love a song that contains the lines: “My Tribe be worldwide like the Nike swoosh/Emcees be soundin’ moist like vagina juice”? The Gap Band’s “Yearning For Your Love” is sampled on “Pad & Pen.” The great production and lyrics continue on “Busta’s Lament,” which somehow did not feature any verses, but a repeated “yo yo, yo yo yo” from Busta Rhymes.

Tribe weren’t shy when it came to discussing their sexual escapades and conquests, and such is the case on “Hot 4 U.” Tip and Phife both use their time to regale us with tales of some of the women who got them hot and bothered, from “a girl named Shelley/Six-pack belly” to “a shorty named Kelly/From East St. Louie.”

Let me remind you, the theme of this album was love. After rampant objectifications on the previous track, Tip and Phife are a bit more gentlemanly on “Against The World.” Disregarding any actual and potential obstacles, both rappers let their respective lady know that it’s them against everyone else. While “Find A Way” is my favorite song from The Love Movement, “The Love” is a very, very, very close second. Armed with a fairly complex bassline and a sample of jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower,” this song showcases Tip’s (and the group’s, I assume) love for the mere art of hip-hop and just plain ol’ love, dammit. “Love lovin’ love cause I love what I do…”

Sadly, the finale, “Rock Rock Y’all” is not only the end of The Love Movement, but it symbolized the end of A Tribe Called Quest as well. If you are even vaguely familiar with funk band Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, you’ll love the sample. What you may love even more about this one are the features: Punchline and Wordsworth, of the hip-hop group eMC, rapper Jane Doe, and a hip-hopper to the fullest, Mos Def, now known as Yasiin Bey. Crazily, Phife did not have a verse on this track, even though Tip managed to get a few verses in.

I imagine that fans of A Tribe Called Quest were somewhat dismayed by Beats, Rhymes, Life and subsequently shunned The Love Movement, to an extent. Even those who were fans of Beats probably didn’t enjoy the group’s last studio release too much because of it’s sunnier, love-influenced tone. It’s true; The Love Movement was not the group’s best effort. Some of the tracks came off as filler, whether because of the sound or lyrical content, but overall, the album was certainly better than most other music passed off as hip-hop at the time. It’s hard to listen to this album and not become nostalgic; remembering ATCQ when they were at their musical peak. In a documentary about the group, Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, viewers learned that the group is still contractually obligated to release another album under Jive. Whether this happens or not, I can’t be sure. Obviously, I’d love for the group to reunite and gift our ears with another release. Hell, I’d even take an impromptu show in the middle of West Bubblefuck. The Love Movement is music that leaves me conflicted, emotionally. I hate that it signaled the end of their run, but I am also grateful for their work. My favorite rap group of all-time did things their way, and decided to make an exit before they were forced to. Gotta love it.

Review: Beats, Rhymes and Life

A Tribe Called Quest - Beats Rhymes and Life iTunes cover 600x598 Already 3/5 of the way through A Tribe Called Quest’s studio discography, today I will review one of the group’s less-celebrated albums, Beats, Rhymes and Life. After the success that was Midnight Marauders, ATCQ enjoyed a popularity they hadn’t experienced before. It also gave them a bit of freedom, musically and in their personal lives as well. Q-Tip, after converting to Islam, would be listed as Kamaal. He also began to produce tracks for other artists. Phife Dawg’s lyricism was featured on other songs, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad worked on other music projects, most notably R&B singer D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar.

While on tour, a friend of Tip introduced him to a young Detroit producer by the name of Jay Dee. After getting him acquainted with the rest of the group, it was decided that “The Ummah” (Arabic for “the worldwide community) would be a production group including Tip, Ali and Jay Dee, and would handle production for the rest of Tribe’s albums. A Tribe Called Quest would never sound the same.

Beats, Rhymes and Life was released on July 30, 1996, on Jive Records. Whereas Midnight Marauders was almost instantly loved, this album was met with mixed reviews. Released during the height of a conflict between rap and hip-h0p artists on both the East and West Coast, on their fourth studio album Tribe set out to once again tackle then-current issues. What critics loved was the new, darker sound, and meatier lyrical content. What critics didn’t love was the deviation from their previous sound; the jazzy aesthetic that made listeners want to dance while also appealing to the lovers of lyrics. Hip-hop artist Consequence, the cousin of Q-Tip, got shine on Beats, Rhymes and Life, and this added to Phife once again taking more of a backseat role. Despite the relative uncertainty that faced the group, the album was still certified platinum on October 27, 1998.

Beats, Rhymes and Life starts with “Phony Rappers,” an obvious ode to “Phony rappers, who do not write/Phony rappers, who do not incite.” It is on this track that we are introduced to Consequence, a 19 year-old rapper from Queens, who is also the cousin of Q-Tip. He is featured prominently on this album, leading some to believe that ATCQ had found a new member.

The first song that signaled a serious change for ATCQ was “Get A Hold.” Not only did the production sound very different from their previous works, but so did the lyrics. Tip’s flow sounded more controlled and its content, more socially inclined than it was on Midnight Marauders. Tip implores everyone within earshot to regain some semblance of composure in the name of humanity, rapping: “Lay your ego on the ground so that you’ll benefit/You can take these words and relay it to your click.” The new sound and flow continues on “Motivators.” Tribe aims to let folks know that they are indeed constantly moving, regardless of whoever else is stuck in place. Consequence drops great bars on this track, but the new format seems a bit odd.

Getting back to the party shit on “Jam,” Tip, Phife and Consequence take turns describing a “Friday afternoon in the middle of June” that finally ends with someone pulling a gun and the cops showing up at damn near four in the morning. After the song is over, Tip laments going out and getting wasted, women being bogus, and the spot getting broken up by malarkey. Call it a revelation, if you will.

Addressing the issues of friendship and loyalty on “Crew,” Tip speaks to the snakes that lay in the grass. After reminding one of his boys how he would have stopped at no length to hold him down, he discovers his wife and friend in a rather compromising position. “Allah forgive me, my thoughts is traveling to low desires,” Tip raps before the track eventually ends with gunshots being fired over a woman’s screams.

Funk music band Funkadelic was sampled on several Tribe songs, and this was the case on “The Pressure.” Funkadelic’s “Get Off Your Ass And Jam” was the lone sample on the sixth track of Beats, Rhymes and Life, as Tip and Phife each took a turn in telling us about the responsibilities they face as a group, in addition to being an innovator and savior of the genre, of sorts. More dope sampling can be found on the next joint, “1nce Again,” the album’s first single. The song featuring saxophonist Cannonball Adderley’s “Untitled” and vibraphonist Gary Burton’s “I’m Your Pal” was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance By A Group Or Duo. Hype Williams directed the video. This was the first Tribe song to feature Jay Dee’s production, and Tammy Lucas wonderfully sung the hook.

“Mind Power” is one of those tracks where there seems to be some confusion in terms of direction. Tip’s lyrics are relatively uplifting, Consequence seems like he is auditioning, and Phife is still stuck in Midnight Marauders mode. Luckily, the three aren’t lacking, lyrically, and the production is incredibly smooth. Thankfully, “The Hop” is rife with dopeness. Seamless production is accompanied by one of the better lyrical efforts by Tip and Phife on this album. “You see you, your career is over like Johnny Carson’s/Get me vexed, I do like Left Eye, I’ll start an arson,” Phife spit at the beginning of his verse.

Q-Tip attempts to defuse some of the then-existing beef between the East and West Coast’s rap and hip-hop artists on “Keep It Moving.” “Yeah, we from the East, the land of originators/You also from the West, the land of innovators/The only difference of the two is the style of rap/Plus the musical track, this beef shit is so wack.” In my opinion, Tip was also taking a shot at record label execs with his “I ain’t got no time for shuckin’ and jivin'” part of the chorus.

While Phife may have felt left out, he was rewarded with his own spotlight on “Baby Phife’s Return.” The problem with this track is that it’s totally forgettable, from the production, lyrics and hook by the seemingly invasive Consequence, whose sound once again appears to be somewhat out of the place. I also doubt Tip was pleased with Phife rapping, “Just keep shit hotter than Death Row-Bad Boy confrontations” but I doubt Phife gave a shit.

Sometimes music with a message can be condescending, as it is fairly often articulated in a less than sophisticated way and is generally not self-reflective, or anything close. However, “Separate/Together” is one of my favorite Tribe tracks, regardless of album. On this track, Tip adjures men and women to, essentially, get their shit together. “We got to do or do, not separate, together/Got to move on through, not separate, together…” Tip continues dropping knowledge on “What Really Goes On.” Rapping over samples of James Brown’s “Make It Funky” and the Ohio Players’ “Pain,” Tip talks about wayward MCs and once again, the East-West beef. He even calls into question the state of our environment as a whole, lacing ears: “The Westernized world got our minds confused/You frontin’ on me, ak, then you don’t get bruised/The funny style cats, they be playin’ games like Chucky/Government officials shoot their same old/Made of devil agents aka the devil flunky…”

Finally, the triumvirate of Tip, Phife and Consequence gives a sound of musical cohesiveness on “Word Play.” Perhaps I love this track so much because Jay Dee was the sole producer, or maybe because the bars were short and sweet, with no ramblings, excessive boastfulness or what could be construed as remote pretentiousness. Because, all it really is, is word play.

The second single from Beats, Rhymes and Life, “Stressed Out,” features R&B singer Faith Evans on the hook. I’m sure you A2046 music heads can hear Anita Baker’s “Good Love” sample, and the video is certainly…different. Darkness generally isn’t a theme of Tribe, but the tone of the album’s finale is definitely that. Sadly, Phife’s verse that we heard on the video is not on the album’s final cut. Consequence did not disappoint, but it simply didn’t seem appropriate to not hear Phife on such a great song.

Even on the documentary, Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, Beats, Rhymes and Life was regarded by a few participants as less than stellar. This could probably be attributed to the new overall sound and lyrical matter, Tip’s newfound style, Phife’s reduced role, or the inclusion of Consequence, a move that now reeks of nepotism on Tip’s part. I would never call Beats, Rhymes and Life wack, but different. It was nominated for 1997’s Grammy Award for Best Rap Album, and I can certainly see why. As a collective, A Tribe Called Quest attempted to delve deeper into society’s ills, especially as they pertained to rap and hip-hop. In some ways, they definitely succeeded, and the opposite applies as well. Beats, Rhymes and Life was nothing short of a gutsy effort, despite the adoration and disdain it received.

Review: Midnight Marauders

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Today is the first day of 2013. What’s a better way to begin it than by reviewing my favorite A Tribe Called Quest album and one of my favorite music albums ever, Midnight Marauders? I previously reviewed Tribe’s debut album, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, and their follow-up effort, The Low End Theory. Both were instrumental in bringing a new face to the genre of hip-hop, both in name and style. The eclectic, eccentric, jazzy music that the group virtually perfected left its mark on many a hip-hop fan, and is still extremely popular today.

Midnight Maruaders was released on November 9, 1993, on Jive Records. The album was a success, commercially, and while some have opined that the positive reception played a part in Tribe’s downfall, there can be no denying that the release was the group at its best. An even more confident Phife Dawg and lyrically and socially inclined Q-Tip gave this album a sound that simply wasn’t present on Tribe’s first two albums. To an extent, this work combined themes of both their first and second album, while going a step further in terms of sound and lyrical content. Midnight Marauders peaked at #8 on 1993’s Billboard 200 and was certified platinum on January 11, 1995.

Surprisingly, Midnight Marauders begins with what sounds like 1970s elevator music and a woman’s robotic voice. That voice, belonging to Laurel Dann, informs us that she will be our guide through the Midnight Maruader program. Our “Midnight Marauders Tour Guide”, to be exact. “I will be enhancing your cassettes and CDs with certain facts that you may find beneficial,” Dann adds before signing off.

Do not be confused by “Steve Biko (Stir It Up)”, as the title may cause you to believe this is an ode to the deceased anti-apartheid activist. Nevertheless, this is a wonderful way to kick things off, musically, with Phife rapping “Rude boy composer/Step to me, you’re over/Brothers wanna flex/You’re not Mad Cobra”He and Tip trade bars after a rather unconventional start to the album.

A-Tribe-Called-Quest-Award-Tour The first single from Midnight Marauders was “Award Tour”, featuring Trugoy of Native Tongues co-founder De La Soul, another hip-hop trio that embodied many of the things that Tribe did. A sample of Weldon Irvine’s “We Gettin’ Down” and “Hobo Scratch” by Malcolm McLaren make this one of my favorite beats. We even get an explanation of the album’s title from Ms. Dann: “Seven times out of ten, we listen to our music at night. Thus spawned the title of this program. The word ‘maraud’ means to loot. In this case, we maraud for ears.”

One thing Tribe did very well was tell stories, and that is apparent on “8 Million Stories.” Nothing more than a common man, Phife regales us with tales of going to get a milk shake, getting robbed by a woman, not having anything to wear on a date, going through it with his girlfriend, and being benched by his basketball coach. Admittedly, I use the word “nigga.” I don’t use it nearly as much as I did a decade ago, and am slowly attempting to remove it from my lexicon, but for now, it’s here. Q-Tip sets out to deconstruct the word, its meaning and how it’s used on “Sucka Nigga.” “See, nigga was first used in the Deep South/Fallin’ out between the dome of the White man’s mouth,” rapped Tip before trying to shine some positivity on the word when he spit: “And being that we use it as a term of endearment/Niggas start to bug to the dome is where the fear went…” Despite his own use of the word, Q-Tip tells the listener that he does feel conflicted about it: “Yo I start to flinch, as I try not to say it…”

Track six should be enshrined in the White House. All who visit the home of our president should be made aware of the samples, Albino Gorilla’s “Psychadelic Shack” and the great George Duke’s “North Beach.” Q-Tip’s covered police brutality: “See, Jake be gettin’ illy when the sun get dark/They be comin’ out their heads, but shit don’t let me start…” Nocturnal happenings were a topic, too, as evident in the hook: “The night is on my mind/The sun’ll still shine”. I would argue that “Sucka Nigga” and “Midnight” are two of Q-Tip’s best lyrical efforts.

Never shy to resort to boasting, Tribe’s “We Can Get Down” is almost flawless. The bass and drums are definitely present, but don’t take away from Phife and Tip’s verses. Phife Dawg is “not your average MC with the Joe Schmoe flow”, folks.

If “Midnight” is worthy of White House status, then so was Midnight Marauders’ “Electric Relaxation,” an ode to sexcapades. While the former is my favorite Tribe song, 115026654 the latter has my favorite production…of any song I have ever heard. Samples of Ronnie Foster’s “Mystic Brew”, Brethren’s “Outside Love” and Chicago jazz pianist and keyboardist Ramsey Lewis’ “Dreams” are blended perfectly, set to mellow bars by both Tip and Phife, which they traded back and forth in typical ATCQ fashion. The visuals were even better, as the video starts with Tip and Phife dropping their bars in the back of a cab with fellow member Ali Shaheed vibing between them. Many debate the actual content of the hook, and once again, Phife spit one of hip-hop’s more memorable lines: “Lemme hit it from the back, girl, I won’t catch a hernia/Bust off on your couch, now you got Seamans Furniture.”

What distinguished Midnight Marauders most from Tribe’s first two albums was the increased role of Phife. I couldn’t help but see their first release as an introductory course to the lyrics of Q-Tip, and the same applies to Phife with this album. Once I heard Phife rap “And if I ever went solo, my favorite rapper would be me” on “Clap Your Hands,” I knew from that point on, he would be a lyrical force to be  atribecalledquestohmygodreckoned with. Tribe associate Busta Rhymes’ “Oh my God, yes, oh my God” could be found on, you guessed it, “Oh My God.” Keeping up with his penchant for dropping lyrical jewels, Phife gifted us with “Mr. Energetic, who me sound pathetic/When’s the last time you heard a funky diabetic?” Once again, Tribe presented a dope video. For the album’s third single, we got the shoot’s moving stage driving away with Ali Shaheed still on it, children chasing after a rapping Tip and Phife, and Busta absolutely going nuts for the last 45 seconds.

For some reason, “Keep It Rollin'” doesn’t quite sound like a Midnight Marauders track. It approaches campy status, both in lyrical content and sound. However, a Roy Ayers’ “Feel Like Making Love” sample and verse from DJ/MC/producer Large Professor saved this joint from being forgotten. Getting back on track with “The Chase Pt. II,” aided by a Biz Markie and Steve Arrington sample, Phife and Tip got back to their boastful ways. “Run and tell your dad Abstract’s the bag,” Q-Tip rapped over smooth drums and keyboard.

Ms. Dann tells us after “The Chase Pt. II” that the Midnight Marauders program is over, but luckily, she is mistaken. Not only are we rewarded with two more tracks, but the first of those two is “Lyrics To Go.” Anyone remotely familiar with singer/songwriter Minnie Riperton will instantly recognize the “Inside My Love” sample featured on “Lyrics To Go.” Adding to the composed fray are the iconic Clyde McPhatter’s “Mixed Up Cup” and legendary James Brown’s “Just Enough Room For Storage.” It’s fitting that both Tip and Phife showed their asses on this record, with bars like Tip’s “When I speak of nation please don’t make the deviation/Rebels of the party who create the jump sensation” and Phife’s “The mic is in effect, so you know I’m never stallin’/Walked through the door and all them suckers started haulin'”.

Midnight Marauders finishes with “God Lives Through,” thought by some to be a song about faith, when it’s just a showcasing finale to the album. There are chops of Busta Rhymes’ “Oh my God!” on the hook, a sample of Tribe’s “Oh My God,” and we get dope bars from Phife and Tip, along with shout outs to different areas, from Queens to Oaktown. How dope is it that the last lyric spit on Midnight Marauders was Tip’s “It’s hemp, like Betsy Ross, lemme tell you who’s the boss”?!

My favorite A Tribe Called Quest album is Midnight Marauders, largely because of the further incorporation of Phife Dawg’s lyrical ability and style into the group’s scheme. Phife’s voice emanates confidence and his rapping prowess only added to the allure of Tribe. Not to be outdone, Q-Tip stepped his game up, but I never got the sense that one was trying to outshine the other. Healthy competition was in the air, I’m sure, but even when trading bars and verses, I felt they were more complementary than anything else. Something else that I love about this album is the cover art. Hip-hop artists from Afrika Bambaataa to Whodini can be found on it, and it’s reminiscent of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club album cover, in that it served as a “Who’s Who” of hip-hoppers who were popular in that era. This was Tribe at their peak, across the entire board. The first hip-hop album I was actually consumed by, the title did what it set out to do, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad made sure to once again clarify: “We decided to call the album ‘Midnight Marauders’ because A Tribe Called Quest are like sound thieves looting for your ears.”