When A Tribe Called Quest called it quits last year, it brought an end to one of hip-hop's most influential and accessible groups. Where the West Coast acts of the '90s tapped into the funk, Tribe's troika of Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and Ali Shaheed Muhammad shaped a wholly distinctive jazz-rap hybrid on such albums as "People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm," "The Low-End Theory" and "Midnight Marauders," all classics in the hip-hop canon.
On "Wait Up," the opening track of Q-Tip's solo debut, "Amplified" (Arista), he promises that "We on a brand new page/ Millennium days/ Desperation on the streets/ Gotta find a new way. . . . I got a whole new approach for the rhymin.' " But Tribe fans needn't worry about any radical changes: "Amplified" is comfortably familiar, from Q-Tip's easygoing, accessible flow to the jazzy piano vamps, supple rhythms and beats that insinuate rather than assault.
The album includes Q-Tip's biggest hit, "Vivrant Thing," a No. 1 rap and R&B hit from this summer's "Violator" collection (celebrating a rap management company), but the bouncy, guitar-driven track was hardly his best work. It was particularly weak on the lyrics front, saved mostly by Q-Tip's genial disposition and sweet vocal presence.
"Vivrant Thing" is hardly the best thing on "Amplified." In fact, the best track isn't even listed. It's a hidden bonus track at the album's end titled "Do It, See It, Be It," in which Q-Tip recounts personal and group history in the context of hip-hop culture, explaining the blessings of his career so far, as well as its burdens and the need for Tribe's dissolution. But, he insists, "I'm still here, take note and let hope float."
It's a celebratory track on an album that is, for the most part, upbeat, nowhere more so than on "Let's Ride." On this happy-go-lucky invitation, Q-Tip celebrates his state-of-the-art ride--"fuel-injected/ Brand new inspected/ Emissions got tested/ Details perfected . . . Lady, tell me this is better than takin' the cab!" It's got the liberating flavor of Ice Cube's "It Was a Good Day," absent the threat of imminent social disaster.
Other standout tracks include the challenges of "Go Hard" and "Higher," whose chorus of "you better raise your game higher" proves an in-your-face update on Sly and the Family Stone's "I Want to Take You Higher." There's also the somber "Things We Do" and "Moving With U," the latter built upon some wonderfully murky, almost cheesy keyboard effects. The album was produced by Q-Tip, Jay Dee (half of the Ummah production team) and DJ Scratch, and it clearly benefits from a continuity of sound, whether on the numerous tracks that maintain Tribe's embracing vibe, or the jerkier "Breathe & Stop" and "All In," which soften a Swizz Beats-Ruff Riders influence.
There are a couple of guests helping out on Q-Tip's debut, but they're kept to a minimum. Busta Rhymes, a pal since Leaders of the New School joined A Tribe Called Quest on its classic "Scenario," joins Q-Tip on the upbeat "N.T.," which is actually more interesting for its forceful cocktail piano loop, while Korn shows up on "End of Time," a fuzzy, fatalistic rap-metal fusion that doesn't seem to have inspired either of the participating parties.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8181.)
A Tribe Called Quest:
A Tribe Called Quest's legacy is celebrated on "The Anthology" (Jive), a 19-track collection that focuses on singles from the group's first three albums (the last two are represented by only three cuts), as well as one crucial album track ("Buggin' Out") and a single B-side ("If the Papes Come"). The only real drawback is that those first three albums, all released by 1993, play better individually than this collection does.
What you get is the playfulness of "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo" and "Bonita Applebum," the sensually charged "Electric Relaxation" and "Hot Sex," and other crucial tracks like "Check the Rhime," "Keep It Moving," "Can I Kick It?," "Jazz (We've Got)," "Scenario" and "Award Tour."
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8182.)
While Q-Tip's solo debut has been long in development, Nas isn't letting any grass grow under his release schedule: "Nastradamus" (Columbia) is the New York rapper's second album in six months, following "I Am . . . ," which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album charts. Should the new album do so well, it will mark the first time in the Soundscan era that an artist has had two No. 1 openings in the same year.
Like its predecessor, "Nastradamus" is a mixed bag of groove and grit defined by Nas's compelling narratives and authoritative flow. It's further shaped by a coterie of producers, notably L.E.S., DJ Premier, Timbaland, Dame Grease and Havoc of Mobb Deep, who brings a chiming Christmas carol edge to the violent scenario "Shoot 'Em Up." Mobb Deep also shows up as guests on "Family," but the only impressive guests here are Washington's favorite bachelor, Ginuwine, on the sinewy "You Owe Me," and Ron Isley, who joins Nas on the soul-worn, weary "Project Windows," a track that looks out onto a world most folks can't even imagine. Nashawn: Millennium Thug shows up on "Last Words," in which Nas undergoes another psychic transformation--this time he's a prison cell, just as he was a handgun on 1996's "I Gave You Power"--but the narrative doesn't quite match that model.
As its predecessor did, "Nastradamus" serves up dire scenarios like "Life We Chose," which fixates on trust and betrayal, and "Some of Us Have Angels," in which he moves from caustic ("His reputation is bigger than his whole life span/ He never planned to fail/ He just failed to plan") to compassionate. The Devil, Nas warns, "comes in all shapes and sizes/ His best disguise is when he stands besides us/ But God is inside us." There's also a hint of hope on "God Loves Us" and "New World," a chronicle of technological innovation moving hand in hand with social change.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8183.)