Being a world-famous hip hop blogger has its obvious perks. With the use of only a handful of words, I can make or break newer artists trying to break into the limelight. I can mold the taste of the general public as if I were an artist with his child's Play-Doh. And with a wink of my eye (usually the right one: using th eleft one has unforeseen consequences), young women who do absolutely nothing but read my blog and drool over my recommendations peel off their tops (usually in public places, such as bookstores, clubs, and at your mom's house) with a quickness typically reserved for being on fire. Yep, the power I wield with my bare hands is mesmerizing.
But the one thing I have been unable to do is convince A Tribe Called Quest to get back together.
It's not for a lack of trying. After they announced the demise of the crew in 1998, shortly before their final album, The Love Movement, was released, Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad were hot commodities who all embarked on solo careers, but their paths continued to cross: they even recorded a reunion track of sorts, "I.C.U. (Doin' It)", with Erykah Badu, for an unreleased compilation album. But today, it's almost as if these three have no knowledge of the existence of each other. Q-Tip has had the most successful solo career, if success can be measured by the fact that he recorded three separate sophomore albums before he could finally convince a label that he might make them some money (although it's awesome, I'm fairly certain that The Renaissance hasn't sold many copies). Phife Dawg released a solo album as well, but has been sidetracked from hip hop due to both health concerns and his side business as a sports agent, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad has seen limited success both by himself and as a part of the group Lucy Pearl, but hasn't been heard from in quite a while.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The Love Movement, which was not intended to be the group's final album, became just that due to ongoing issues with their label, Jive Records (record company rule #4080: "Record company people are shaaaaaady..."). Coming off of the criticism they garnered for their fourth effort, Beats, Rhymes & Life, A Tribe Called Quest made a valiant attempt to appeal to the hip hop fans they feared they had lost, all while sticking to their positive intentions. The production collective The Ummah (Tip, Ali Shaheed, and the late J. Dilla) again provided the bulk of the album's musical backing, but this time around, they scaled back on the smooth jazz-lite from their previous work and simplified their sound, making The Love Movement sound like the most expensive underground album ever produced.
The Love Movement had the disadvantage of being released on September 29, 1998, the same day that saw numerous other hip hop albums hit the shelves, among them the more critically acclaimed Aquemini (from Outkast), the reunion album from Brand Nubian (Foundation), and one especially important disc that I will mention later on in this write-up. Reviews were generally positive, but the album didn't sell as well as I'm sure Jive was hoping, so A Tribe Called Quest ended up going out with a whimper. I don't even personally know anybody who actually owns The Love Movement, but everybody seems to agree on The Low End Theory and (especially) Midnight Marauders, which are among the best one-two punches in hip hop history.
So, is this review worth the long wait? (I'm doing much better now, thanks.)
1. START IT UP
Takes its sweet time to get things actually started, but once it does, Kamaal immediately launches into a verse that sounds much more aggressive than anything from Beats, Rhymes & Life. The Ummah's instrumental fits this introductory track well, and although Phife Dawg is nowhere to be found (not that this is the biggest deal on A Tribe Called Quest's albums, I know), this was still quite enjoyable. Still, this is light years behind The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders.
2. FIND A WAY
The first single, and the only track from The Love Movement that Tribe shot a video for (as far as I know). Q-Tip's reference to Gina teasing Martin sounds a bit unsettling when one remembers that the actress who played Gina on Martin, Tisha Campbell-Martin (weird coincidence, I know), quit the show during its final season after allegedly being sexually harassed by star Martin Lawrence, but that's just a minor quibble. Tribe has always had a way with the love rap (see: "Electric Relaxation", still one of my favorite songs of all time), but this track (produced solely by J. Dilla) has always left me feeling indifferent.
3. DA BOOTY
I never cared for this track. The Ummah's beat isn't a good fit for either Kamaal or Phife Dawg, and they both appear to be uncomfortable behind the mic, which is never a good characteristic for a rap group who is five albums deep into their career.
4. STEPPIN' IT UP (FEAT BUSTA RHYMES & REDMAN)
Funnier than either version of "Scenario" and more enjoyable than "Show Business" by a hair, for two very important reasons: (1) Busta Rhymes, a longtime associate of Q-Tip and company, wishes that he had an extra dick, not so he could fuck two groupies at once or double-penetrate all in a single bound (like a normal person), but simply so that he can hold onto one of them while the other is doing its own thing, up to and including passing some Courvoisier, to help best facilitate the next DUI charge, and (2) Reggie Noble's line "best believe I went through more trees than Sonny [Bono]", which is both goofy and mean-spirited, and I would expect nothing less from Redman. Q-Tip and Phife Dawg are both overshadowed, which is a shame, but they don't seem to mind one bit, as they appear to be enjoying this track as much as any Tribe fan would (and will). And hey, how many times will I use the phrase "double-penetrate" when writing about A Tribe Called Quest?
5. LIKE IT LIKE THAT
The second single. At least, I'm fairly certain it was: there was never a video shot, and I never heard this song on the radio around my way, but I possess a promo-only CD single for this track that contains both a radio edit and an instrumental. I've always liked the smooth sound of this song, as it is a much better attempt at a love rap than "Find A Way". The hook is a bit too simple, but the song is catchy. If you never cared for "Like It Like That" before, I urge you to give it another spin. Go ahead, I can wait.
6. COMMON GROUND (GET IT GOIN' ON)
This is some jazzy shit right here. Tip and Phife pose questions and provide their own responses in lieu of waiting for the studio audience, and they do so over The Ummah's instrumental work, which bobs and weaves throughout the conversation like a prizefighter. This could be seen as a precursor to Q-Tip's awesome solo song "You", except with much more of a positive tone. Overall, I liked it.
7. 4 MOMS (FEAT SPANKY)
Tribe gets the late Chalmers "Spanky" Alford, a well-reknowned jazz guitarist, to provide an instrumental interlude, albeit one which becomes more than a little bit tiresome before its one-minute-and-forty-eight-seconds is complete.
8. HIS NAME IS MUTTY RANKS
Phife Dawg's solo shot, which, as per usual, proves that Q-Tip isn't the only formidable emcee in A Tribe Called Quest. His playful verses have always acted as a perfect counterpoint to Kamaal's abstract poetic rhetoric. It ends far too soon, though.
9. GIVE ME (FEAT NOREAGA)
This song sucks motherfucking koala balls. And koalas are all tainted with syphilis (true fact), so you should take that mental image to its natural conclusion. The beat is bland, Q-Tip's hook is uncharacteristically ridiculous (for a Tribe song, anyway), and, probably most offensively, Noreaga appears on this shit. Now Nore and Tribe hail from the same general vicinity, so it isn't unfathomable for them to work together, but you know what? There are many other rappers from Queens that they could have used to fill that slot.
10. PAD & PEN
This was the type of song that I believed The Love Movement would be filled with when it was first announced. Instead, "Pad & Pen" ended up being the only track of its kind on the album. Regardless, this is enjoyable enough, as it is a throwback to a simpler time in Tribe's career. Also, Phife's line about "emcees sounding moist like vagina juice" is funny, and Kamaal's mention of slipping in a smile every now and then is telling for the kind of rap group A Tribe Called Quest has always been.
11. BUSTA'S LAMENT
I have to admit, working a Busta Rhymes vocal sample into the actual beat is pretty clever, and putting the man's name int the title is brilliant. The only thing that could have made this track better is if Tribe had included Busta himself on the song. But maybe that's just me.
12. HOT 4 U
A Tribe Called Quest has never shied away from the sex rap (especially since sex would, ostensibly, be one of the more positive outcomes from a love rap). I liked this track back in the day, but for some reason, even with the peaceful Ummah beat and the more-than-credible verses from Phife and Tip, today the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts.
13. AGAINST THE WORLD
14. THE LOVE
I've always liked this song, although it is a bit depressing to hear Q-Tip rhyme about making music because he loves to do it, and then know that his next project would end up being his overly-commercial solo debut Amplified. But the track still works, somehow. Phife is missed on here, though.
15. ROCK ROCK Y'ALL (FEAT PUNCHLINE, WORDSWORTH, JANE DOE, & MOS DEF)
Because both albums were released on the same day, I've always felt that this song had a spiritual connection to "Twice Inna Lifetime" off of Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, and not simply because that was also the last song on that album: it helps that both songs feature many of the same players (Talib Kweli is replaced by Q-Tip on here). I don't know if the end of Tribe was looming when this track was recorded, but this Lyricist Lounge update of "Scenario" serves as the perfect passing of the torch to a new generation of rappers, and Tip, Phife (who fails to appear on the last original song on the final A Tribe Called Quest album), and Ali Shaheed gracefully bow out.
The Love Movement's first pressing is (supposedly) the only one to include six bonus tracks following the original program.
16. SCENARIO (REMIX) (FEAT KID HOOD & LEADERS OF THE NEW SCHOOL)
Finally, the remix to the classic posse cut "Scenario" makes its way to compact disc. The late Kid Hood, who passed away shortly after recording his verse (hence Busta's reference to one of the participants being of a "spiritual essence" in his intro), unleashes an electrifying opening verse, and both Tribe and the Leaders provide all new verses over a catchy instrumental from the original song. Possibly one of the best hip hop remixes ever fucking made. Period.
17. MONEY MAKER
For me, anyway, A Tribe Called Quest is as known for their music that wasn't officially released as they are for their actual albums. A handful of their singles feature a crew called Know Naim, which I'm about eighty-five percent sure is just Tribe in disguise (they're also referenced on The Love Movement, and one of its members supposedly co-produced "Busta's Lament"), and Q-Tip also (allegedly) recorded some solo tracks using the name The Lone Ranger, none of which I have found, save for this one (obviously). The fact that Kamaal references Puff Daddy on this solo track places this song in a more recent timeframe than Midnight Marauders, which confounds me even more as to whether this Lone Ranger rumor is actually true, but fuck it: this song rocks. Yes, it's a precursor to the blingy "Vivrant Thing" that Q-Tip would later record, but the man isn't aiming for the rafters here: this song is for Tribe fans, and I, for one, appreciate it.
18. HOT SEX
If you're a Tribe fan that lives outside of the United States, then "Hot Sex" isn't much of a bonus track, since it was tacked on to the end of international pressings of Midnight Marauders. It's also one of the most maligned songs in A Tribe Called Quest's entire catalog. But I still like it: the beat is catchy, and the lyrics are entertaining, although I will concede that the hook is really fucking stupid.
19. OH MY GOD (REMIX)
Tribe applies some fine sandpaper to the original "Oh My God" and, possibly inadvertently, erases the Busta Rhymes sample that gave the song its title. I prefer the original (from Midnight Marauders), but this version is alright. For some reason, this time around I paif more attention to Phife's admission that he "used to have a crush on Dawn from En Vogue": that just makes the fact that Ali Shaheed Muhammad formed Lucy Pearl (after Tribe disbanded) with Raphael Saadiq and Dawn from En Vogue even funnier.
20. JAZZ (WE'VE GOT) (RE-RECORDING RADIO)
For this track, the qualifier "re-recording" apparently means "brand new song", as this sounds absoluetly nothing like the original (from The Low End Theory). (This song also appeared on the technically-unreleased-in-the-United-States Revised Quest For The Seasoned Traveler, a remix compilation.) It's still pretty entertaining, though, even with the more aggressive lyrics from Phife and (especially) Q-Tip. This version can definitely score a hyper house party, high on coke, in a pinch, unlike the first recording, which is good smoking music.
21. ONE TWO SHIT (FEAT BUSTA RHYMES)
I already had this song (it's a B-side from the single for "Oh My God"), so its inclusion was disappointing for me, but I'm a collector and most folks aren't, so there you go. I always felt that this track was one of the lesser ones in Tribe's catalog: it sounds like a throwaway song that Tip and Phife may have recorded for a Busta Rhymes solo album that never existed. Ends The Love Movement on a down note, but then again, the actual album ended six songs ago.
FINAL THOUGHTS: The Love Movement was supposed to be A Tribe Called Quest's celebration of love in all of its incarnations, but it ended up showing Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad in love with the idea of love (and, oddly, Noreaga, for seemingly no reason). It wasn't intended as a swan song, but it is impossible to listen to it without thinking about the breakup of Tribe, and based on that connection, The Love Movement is actually better than most critics give it credit for. (Sadly, we will never know how this album would have been received had the crew stuck to their guns and continued to create music together.) The Ummah's production has been toned down severely from their Beats, Rhymes & Life contributions (this is meant in a good way), and Q-Tip and Phife rhyme as well as they always have, ensuring their legacy and effectively asking all of their fans to seek out other like-minded acts to fill the void left in the genre. Also, the fact that Tribe threw in some bonus goodies for the diehards always sits well with me: the "Scenario" remix is worth the price of admission all by its fucking self.
BUY OR BURN? I recommend a purchase, but you have to make sure you pick up the version with the six bonus songs (to be honest, I've never seen a pressing without the extras, so this may be an easy feat). When combined with the actual album, the total package offers an undeniably entertaining listening experience, for Tribe fans and hip hop fanatics from a bygone era. Also, because nobody else seems to actively admit to liking this CD, you'll probably get a really good deal on it, so there.
BEST TRACKS: "Scenario (Remix)"; "Like It Like That"; "Steppin' It Up"; "Rock Rock Y'all"; "Money Maker"; "Jazz (We've Got) (Re-Recording Radio)"; "Pad & Pen"
Read up on the rest of A Tribe Called Quest's albums by clicking here.