1999 / Music

Review: A Solo Q-Tip Fulfills His Quest

‘Midnight Marauders’ Not As Strong As Hoped, But Has Potential

Photo: Arista Records

Photo: Arista Records

After five albums and 10 years together, maybe it was the continued public neglect that prompted the group to disband in 1998. Only a year later, Q-Tip steps out from the group’s considerable shadow and has released his debut solo effort, “Amplified.”

One of the problems with the group is that they consistently remained out of step with what was popular. In the year that their debut album, “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm,” came out, it was the summer of Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power.”

That album’s dreamy feel, narrative lyrics and laid-back beats caused the group to be lumped with like-minded outfits like De La Soul and other groups under the umbrella of the Native Tongues.

Though that didn’t leave them in bad company, it underrated the weapons in Tribe’s arsenal. Tribe was more accessible than their contemporaries, and no one had a better rapper than Q-Tip.

Early songs like “I Left My Wallet In El Segundo” and “Can I Kick It?” were brilliant not only because of their great hooks and because of the group’s willingness to use the exotic — like a sitar — as much as it sampled horns, but also because of Q-Tip’s mellow lyrical cadence. Q-Tip was both the group’s resident poet and its secondary rhythm section. His raspy yet smooth voice implied the same feeling as a jazz sax player, weaving around beats and seducing the ear.

His unique vocal style was best utilized on one of the best hip-hop love songs ever, “Bonita Applebum.” (Have you ever heard anyone else rhyme “tactics” and “prophylactics?”)

The group would get high marks again for its 1991 release, “Low End Theory,” in which the group fully embraced its love of jazz, though they were never consumed by it. In 1993, “Midnight Marauders” saw the group steering closer toward mainstream pop, and it produced some of their best singles: “Award Tour,” “We Can Get Down” and “Oh My God.”

As the decade progressed, the group released a pair of lesser albums, 1996’s “Beats, Rhymes & Life” and 1998’s “Love Movement,” before they decided to pull the plug.

But while their later albums showed the group weakening, Q-Tip’s “Amplified” is the planting of a new seed, if not a complete return to glory.

First, although there are 13 tracks, this is a quick record.

And “Amplified” couldn’t be a more apt title, as the music is much more prominent. In the case of the repetitive piano lick in “Wait Up,” or the stuttering guitars in “Do It” or “Let’s Ride,” the music both drowns out the rapping and really shows a poor use of samples. Yes, the samples are good, but any small snippet played over and over gets old.

Thankfully, these are the exception.

Though both lyrically and musically, “Amplified” is more of a “club album” than anything Tribe ever released, but it isn’t disposable. It is also more personal.

On a song like “Things U Do,” Tip’s begging for people to awaken from their routines and examine their lives, but it is never preachy — sounding more like a conversation with the person who’s across the table from you.

Most revealing is the hidden track, “Do It, Be It, See It,” which is part biography and part inspirational message, telling of Q-Tip’s rise and fall as a member of Tribe.

The pounding beat of “Vivrant Thing” and the thumping bass pulse in “All In” are among the highlights. While the songs’ driving rhythm hits between the eyes, Tip’s raps come gliding from the right and left.

The album’s best song is also its single, “Breathe and Stop.” Frenetic and furious, Tip’s raps slip and slide through plucking bass rhythms and a hard-hitting downbeat. The way it moves is reminiscent of jazz in its fluidity, though jazz was never this danceable.

The album ends with a collaboration with rap/metal act Korn on “End Of Time.” Thankfully, Korn’s involvement is kept to a minimum in the first quarter of the song, revealing a thudding bass figure, though the tune is later overwhelmed by a wall of malicious wah-wah guitar.

“Amplified” isn’t a great album, but it does show that Q-Tip is an artist with tremendous promise. It is also easily a rival to “Midnight Marauders.” Though it is more danceable than anything in Tribe’s catalogue, it never sacrifices the intelligence and wit that are the soul of Q-Tip?s vocal delivery.

Check out some clips:

For More Info:

Note: David’s nationally syndicated music column, Soundbytes, appeared in the Entertainment section of all Internet Broadcasting websites. This column was originally published there.

©Copyright 1999 by David Hyland. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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