September 16, 2007

Q-Tip - Amplified (November 23, 1999)

Q-Tip, formerly of the seminal group (and my second-favorite, behind the Wu) A Tribe Called Quest, reacted to the group's breakup in a way that I couldn't have anticipated. At this point, Tribe had released their final two albums to critical derision; I believe they may have broken up simply because they ran out of positive things to talk about. As Tip, whose real name is both Jonathan Davis and Kamaal Fareed, was the main rapper, he was the primary voice of the group, so whatever he ended up doing would inevitably receive the Tribe comparisons, so many fans sat on pins and needles, anticipating Tip's new stuff that would undoubtedly blow their minds.

So of course, he came out with "Vivrant Thing" as his solo debut, a club banger, which was coupled with a video directed by Hype "God Forbid I Use A Regular Lens In My Camera" Williams, filled with images of half-naked chicks and Kamaal living lavish.

Fans weren't sure what to think about this turn of events. One of the more positive rappers in the game, turning on a dime and spitting the same rap 'n bullshit that was popularized by Puff Daddy and his cronies? Well, yeah, that's what happened. Essentially Tip was tired of drawing the Tribe comparisons and wanted to prove that he was his own person, complex and filled with contradictions, one of which was that while he treated women with the utmost respect, he still liked to make girls shake their asses at the club. (Can't really blame him here.) Besides, it's not like Tribe never rhymed about women; at least one song on each of their five albums was dedicated to getting with the girl of their dreams; hell, one of my favorite songs ever, "Electric Relaxation", is essentially a three-minute pickup line spoken by Tip and cohort Phife Dawg.

Kamaal dropped "Vivrant Thing" as the debut single from rap management company Violator's compilation album, which went on to sell, I don't know, forty gajillion copies based off of this song alone. It was a huge hit, no lie. Regardless of the fact that the word "vivrant" doesn't actually exist, Tip rode the fat guitar licks and programmed drum kicks to clubland, and all Tribe fans like myself could do was hope that this was a one-time thing, that Tip would come to his senses and drop some knowledge.

Amplified, Q-Tip's solo debut, hit the store shelves in 1999 to mixed reviews. Part of the problem was that Kamaal decided to follow the wave created by "Vivrant Thing" with many many many more club tracks of varying degrees of quality, as if to tell listeners that he was tired of being positive all the damn time and just wanted to fucking dance. Another interesting fact about Amplified, and a probable second reason for its failure to fans, was the production itself; this album is essentially produced in its entirety by Q-Tip and the late great J-Dilla, as production collective The Ummah (DJ Scratch produces the only two tracks that Tip and Dilla don't touch). I'm not sure why nobody ever remembers this album when they write about Dilla's legacy, but I think it has something to do with the fact that Tip kind of ruins these beats with his inane spit. Although Tribe fans have also blamed Dilla's beats for ruining the last two Tribe albums, so I don't know.

It wouldn't be tipping my hand to say that you would be better off listening to the five A Tribe Called Quest albums than listening to Amplified. I feel bad for Kamaal, though; even though this album sold okay, he decided to actually make some music, as opposed to songs for the clubs, and has been punished by multiple record labels by seeing his follow up solo efforts locked in their respective vaults (the jazz fusion album Kamaal The Abstract being the most famous of them all). So I decided to pull this album out of a box and see if I walk away with the same disgusted feelings in my stomach that I had back in 1999.

This actually doesn't sound bad. Not Tribe-esque in even the loosest sense of the term, but it sounds alright, even though Kamaal's rhymes can leave a lot to be desired: "One time I smoked hash out of a hippie's bong"? What the hell?

I just heard this song, and I can't remember a single thing about it, except that it seems, in an attempt to establish his individuality from his old team, Tip curses a whole lot more on Amplified.

Otherwise known as "Vivrant Thing II: The Secret Of The Ooze". Some of Dilla's bounciest production ever is on this track. During the advent of the mash-up, someone had the vision to combine this song with Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough"; I remember that song sounding pretty interesting too, so you may want to hunt that one down.

This beat sounds weak. This will be a running theme throughout the write-up.

I actually love the beat to this song. He mentions listening to Led Zeppelin in the ride while driving around with some unnamed girl; somehow, I doubt that would get her in the mood, but I wouldn't know.

Sounds like a leftover from Tribe's The Love Movement. This is not a good thing.


Could sound worse, but so far I'm recalling with vivid clarity why I threw Amplified into a box soon after its purchase.

9. DO IT
One of two DJ Scratch production efforts, which is evident in the first note, since it sounds completely different than anything else on Amplified up to this point. Too bad it's not very memorable.

To fill space, I suppose, Tip includes the hit single on Amplified. Truth be told, I always liked "Vivrant Thing", more for the beat than the song itself, but for a club banger, you could do worse.

After Tip went solo, he appeared on the remix to Missy Elliott's "Hot Boys" alongside the likes of Nas and Eve, and people were shocked at the ignorance conveyed in his guest verse: "Mami what the deal/Ain't no heat fuckin' hotter/Than the heat a n---a hold". This second DJ Scratch song, which would sound great as an instrumental, brings even more of that gangsta shit for your ears, whether you want it or not. And if you've followed Tip throughout his career, you won't want it.

This is probably the only album I own that features two different guys named Jonathan Davis; the star attraction, and the lead singer from Korn. I don't have to tell you that this song sounds like shit; I don't even thing Korn was that big of a deal at this point in their career, so who knows what Kamaal was thinking. There's branching out, and there's leaving your fan base out in the cold freezing rains while you ride the bus into obscurity.

Amplified features a hidden bonus track after "End Of Time":

This is more of what you were probably expecting with a Q-Tip album; introspective, thoughtful lyrics over a decent beat that doesn't overshadow the emcee. Good thing it was left on as a bonus track, huh, Tip?

FINAL THOUGHTS: Amplified is a terrible album. No, I don't think you get it. Amplified is a terrible album. This CD depressed the hell out of me so much, I yelled at my stereo in disgust, and now my wife is giving me the shifty eye. Q-Tip fans, and people reading this that are new to hip hop, go do yourselves a favor and purchase the Tribe albums (at least the first three, if you're cheap). Hopefully Kamaal can persuade whatever record label he's signed with right now to take a chance on him soon; he should be the Kanye West of this rap shit right now.

BUY OR BURN? You couldn't tell by my ridiculous tirade in the last paragraph? Don't buy this album. Ever. In fact, you should skip the letter 'Q' altogether; move on to 'R' and pick up Muddy Waters instead. (You like how I did that? Reference the previous post? Brilliant!)

BEST TRACKS: "Breathe and Stop"; "Vivrant Thing"; "Let's Ride" (all three of these songs were Amplified's singles; when you think about it, that's telling in and of itself.)




    hahaha, just playin after reading the well contrived cbox message. I actually do like this album, but to each their own.

    Keep doin' yo thang' cause it ain't no thang but a chicken' wing

  2. Unfortunately, this joins the graveyard of albums I've purchased and only gave one listen to. And that goes all the way back to Arabian Prince. (Lesson learned: I was young. I thought it might be as good as Straight Outta fault since they put the damn tape next to it on the rack!)

  3. Travis - thanks for the comment. Now that I re-read the post, I think I may have been a little harsh, but sometimes listening to an album that I don't think is any good can really piss me off, thus affecting my writing. Keep doing you thing to, Mr. "As Seen In Vibe Magazine".

    Rick - maybe that was my mistake. I was looking for an album that was just as good as Liquid Swords, or at least Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em, but I got...this. Amplified is now one of the reasons why, even if I loved the artist back in the day, I actually think before I pull my wallet out.

  4. The problem was, the cover art was so dope, you thought it would be really great. I have that poster of him in the middle, life size in my room.

  5. Another good review, never heard the album but have the singles I think. Good club tracks they were, it was good to see he could do that in a way because being part of ATCQ means he was pigeon holed. I have that michael jacko mashup on vinyl, tis a sure fire club hit, works a treat!

  6. Back in 99 I heard and liked the single "vivrant thing " but fortunately decided to check the album out in the cd section of the local library ( pre-download era, remember, ... shit I feel old ! )
    Yes fortunately because the rest of the album was indeed a BIG DISSAPOINTMENT !!!
    Last year I saw it on Ebay for like one dollarcent and decided to buy it, for the single alone and you never knew i might be surprised when listening back to the rest of the tracks after all these years ... but no , still crap .It's the main reason I have never wanted to check out any JDilla release in any form no matter how great anyone might say he is ... he put me off in 99, period.
    For anyone who's unfamiliar with Q-Tip: buy the first three Tribe albums ( NOW !!!) and if there's still some money left you can look for the fourth on Ebay or another site but go nowhere near "the love movement", really ! Remember that photo in the inlay, Max ? They posed like Fuckin Bad Boy P Shitty lookalikes , still feel like throwing up when I think of that image , yuk !!! And the album sounded like it looked ( = glossy shit but still shit ! )
    What , still here ? Go BUY those 3 Tribe albums like I told you to !!!

  7. I don't know, Tcha, if you only paida buck for the CD, then can you really complain when it sounds bad?

    Yes. Yes you can.

    I love how your comments are interrupted to tell readers "Buy those fucking first three Tribe albums NOW!!!", but that's basically wnat I wanted to say, in fewer words. Appreciate your comments as always! Now get back to work on your polls!

  8. I will, Maxie but I need some more votes ... have you voted already ???
    And off course I can complain cause I expected much better from the Abstract than that ... I mean it's been 8 years now and I still can't believe he did that track with Korn ... Korn !!! Korn(y) longhaired kilt wearing overweighted non talented metal dudes ... please !!! WHY Q TIPPIE , WHY ?!?
    Anyway , on with the show ...

    PS If you haven't yet, dear readers of Max's reviews, go get those Tribe albums , YESTERDAY !!!

    PS 2 As you appreciated that so much consider this an encore, :)

  9. Amplified is a dope album if you can listen without predudice.

    This review is asscheecks.

  10. No. No, it's really not.

  11. AnonymousMay 23, 2008

    My favorite part of this album is when Busta Rhymes spazzes in the studio at the end of the "N.T." track. Q-tip is laughing so hysterically, you can't help but to laugh too.. but at what??? Til this very day, I still don't know what the hell happened that got Busta so pissed.. Can anyone shed some light on this mystery for me? PLEASE???

    - Peeples

  12. Amazing album. This proves it.

  13. what a bullshit review, Qtip aint spittting like diddy on this album. he got nice thought provoking shit to say.

    This review is bullshit. but i guess you're entitled to your own opinion. by now i guess u know mine.

    The beats are dope.

  14. i kinda agree wit this review, the album itself sucks, phife dawg's debut solo was better than this one

  15. I have to disagree with the review. I liked this album a lot more than Phife solo joint. The Beats are dope the ryhmes aren't bad, not a bad buy if you can find it for $3.

  16. I actually really liked this album. With Dilla on production you can't really go wrong. I can understand why a lot of people didn't like it, though.

  17. This is one of the few reviews I disagree with. I really felt that him & Dilla were trying to make a hip-hop version of MJ's Off The Wall. Something for the party heads, while still keeping a creative vibe. The beats are super fresh to me, some of the drums on here are ridic! I will always say though that his lyrics are kinda struggling at points. Not as bad as Common(and that one album with the Neptunes beats) but bad still. I can see why Tribe fans(and you) don't like this album, but to say Phifes album was better??? Please... that album had nothing to remember about it. Plus the last two tribe albums weren't anything to write home about either.

  18. Derek ClaptonAugust 20, 2012

    Korn were at peak commercial viability around 97-99 so they're appearance at least follows some line of twisted warped logic.

    Now the Nas/Korn collab from 2003, now that's some shiiiitttttt

  19. classic review! we need more like this.