July 30, 2022

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

Adulthood. On Beats, Rhymes and Life, A Tribe Called Quest has crafted the ideal soundtrack for moving out of your parents' house. Maturity and spirituality are the underlying, predominant themes bounced between Q-Tip and Phife on their fourth go-round since 1990's classic People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. Still, in typical Tribe fashion, these ideas transmit to the listener through a gradual, almost subliminal, process of absorption; overall, Beats is as fun and funky as any of their earlier output. Q-Tip's recent conversion to Islam surely accounts for the thematic direction of Beats, Rhymes and Life, evidenced in a couplet from "Get a Hold": "I praise the lord of the worlds that's unseen / Respect me for that and let do my thing." Elsewhere, on "What Really Goes On," the Abstract expresses a change in his libido: "I used to stress girls with long braids and long hair / Now I want a woman with a spiritual flair." In fact, the linchpin to Beats, Rhymes and Life occurs with Tip's moment of clarity after yet another night of party and bullshit from four years ago. It will recall, for anyone who's been there, the point in young adulthood where hanging out, getting lifted and collecting phone numbers starts to ring hollow. "I'm 22 years old, and I get crazy high every time I go to a party," Q-Tip laments after the organ-driven, guitar-laced housequake, "The Jam." "And this stupid shit be jumping off. I can't have this no more. I gotta find something new, man." As founding members of the newly-reinstated hip-hop bohemian clique Native Tongues, A Tribe Called Quest is undoubtedly expected to address the negative, self-destructive, gats n' blunts slant of today's rap music. On the very first track, "Phony Rappers," Phife relates his victory in battle with an emcee who rhymed weakly about "his .45, and. nickel bags of weed," then rationalized his loss with, "I need a Philly right before I get loose." Later, on "Where Ya At," Phife admonishes, "All that glock-toting trash you talk, it won't prevail / It's stale / You'd either be dead or in jail." Q-Tip even speaks on the tired East/West debate: "Let me let you brothers know, I ain't no West coast disser... I ain't got no beef, so don't come in my face" (from "Keep It Moving"). // (Cont'd below) ...

Q-Tip joins in producing Beats, Rhymes and Life with erstwhile Tribe producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jay Dee (of Pharcyde, Busta Rhymes and De La Soul fame). The collective, known as The Ummah, strike a musical balance somewhere between the jazziness of The Low End Theory and the acute beats from Midnight Marauders. Indeed, if every Tribe album has reflected a different hip-hop genre--Afrocentricity, jazz-rap, post-gangsta--Beats can be best pegged as continuing in the vein of Marauders. Largely due to Ali's perfectionism, Tribe can be credited for creating the most quality-consistent recordings in rap music, rivaled only by De La Soul. Thus it's disappointing that the presence of vocalist Faith Evans on "Stressed Out" and Tammy Lucas "1nce Again" proves detrimental to both tracks, sounding like an attempt to smooth the Tribe out on an R&B tip. Similarly, Q-Tip's cousin, Consequence doesn't add to the flavor of Beats like guests of past albums -- Leaders of the New School, Brand Nubian. But the music throughout Beats proves the Ummah to be the most proficient in the rap game at using samples as instruments in themselves. A cogent argument from way back for rap being a passing fad was that rappers couldn't continue to rhyme about their radios or sneakers when aging into their twenties and thirties. As hip-hop grows older as a culture, albums have begun to reflect the maturing interests of the twentysomething generation that grew up on it. Q-Tip has evolved from the mack mindset of "Bonita Applebum" and "Electric Relaxation," to the self-questioning refrain of "What Really Goes On": "I got some girls with plenty tails, smarts and big titties / And they all stressing me / Yo, really?" It sounds like the juncture in young adulthood that leads to a serious monogamous relationship and marriage; Q-Tip sounds 26. That artistic honesty alone is enough to praise Beats, Rhymes and Life. - The Source.