July 30, 2020

A Tribe Called Quest "Beats, Rhymes and Life" (July 30, 1996)

Gone on Beats, Rhymes and Life was their characteristic bottom-heavy, thick-bass, replaced by a newer, airy and soul-sample-based quality, rooted in tricks that would become Dilla's signature. This album's sample template was significantly smaller, with most songs having only one sample and a few having none at all. The album essentially showcased J Dilla's blooming talents. It took Dilla mere minutes to make some beats on the record, like the ominous and sparse "Get a Hold," the second song on the album, which features samples from William DeVaughn's "Be Thankful for What You Got" and The Cyrkle's "The Visit." According to (House)Shoes, it took him twelve minutes total -- most of the time was spent getting the drums. Once he got those, he chopped the sample and put the loop on top in three minutes. Where Tip was meticulous and microscopic in his pursuit of perfection, Dilla was immediate and haphazardly brilliant, and he provided the group with a sonic balance. - Go Ahead In The Rain (2019), an incredible book/love letter to A Tribe Called Quest. Click play, cont'd below...

Beats was reviewed in New York Magazine (9/2/96), saying, "Q-Tip and Phife give a pilgrims' progress. Beats, Rhymes, and Life is an odyssey of personal growth, a Bildungsroman with jazz samples. The record's no breakthrough for them, but it sustains some of the highest musical standards in hip-hop. Beats's triumph is that it charts an acknowledgement of hip-hop's limitations without sounding glum, scolding, or, worse yet, willfully mature. Pretty remarkable given that one of its subtle themes is a conversion to Islam. Part of this success comes from how seamlessly Tribe incorporates narratives into mesmerizing loops and percolating lyrics. Over a panoramic seventies-funk track, Q-Tip and Phife's workaday vignettes would sound faintly ridiculous. But the producer has refined a cozy, jazzy, gritty aural signature that makes them work, unfolding within a fun, sensual, even transporting record. But Beats's most lasting quality has more to do with soul and charm of its characters. In their vaudevillian trade-offs (finishing each other's lines, rhyming a girl's kiss-off in falsetto), Q-Tip and Phife remain funny and engaging enough to counsel just-say-no sentiments -- to drugs, violence, desperation, nihilism -- without sounding preachy, just seasoned. Even expressing the same dismay over current rap trends as De La Soul, Q-Tip rhymes are marvels of playful, rhythmic push-and-pull... His thoughtfulness sounds rugged, warm, and infectious. He may remind us, somewhat heretically, that his hip-hop is "only wordplay," but the pleasure in it says something else. I think of the Clash's Joe Strummer, of all people, who had his own punk quotable: 'Rock, hip-hop, whatever you call it ... the unspoken message is that it's fun to be alive. It's a hell of a lot better than being dead.' You don't always have to shout to send it." I still have mixed feelings about the album, but I do love "Stressed Out," "1nce Again" & "The Hop", unconditionally. Thoughts?