Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Diggin in the Cassettes: The Love Movement

Tribe's last album (until recently!) is probably their weakest, but it is still endlessly playable and better than the majority of rappers' entire discographies.

Prof Thug's Diggin in the Cassettes Vol. 5

A Tribe Called Quest - The Love Movement

Released on September 29, 1998, this was one of the last cassettes I ever purchased.

This album continued their sonic evolution; it is most similar in sound to their last album, again featuring the laid-back, jazz-oriented beats of The Ummah, but it was not as gloomy in tone and message. It is a return to their lighter, more playful themes and lyrics. As the title implies, the focus is on love and positivity.

Unfortunately, there was a serious tension just underneath the surface. In the documentary about the group, they discuss how Q-Tip and Phife's friendship was falling apart. At one point Tip claims about their last album: "How we gonna name it The Love Movement when there was no love anymore?"
I thought I would be able to pick up on that fractured relationship while listening to it now, but on wax, their chemistry was still intact. It's true that something was definitely off about this album, but there is no noticeable friction between the two, and it is still an excellent album. The songs aren't as memorable as previous efforts, but as always, the beats and lyrics provide high quality hip hop. There's more guests than usual, Consequence has disappeared, and the music is a little more traditional boom bap rather than the jazzier, groovier jams of their earlier albums, but those aren't bad things. They just make it feel less like a "pure" Tribe album. However, if this was a debut, it would be undoubtedly labeled a classic. And looking back, it is a remarkable closing act.

One issue that shouldn't affect the album but undoubtedly does is the album art. Gone are the red, black, and green characters and creative art. It's a simple white cover with plain, grey lettering and what look like small zodiac symbols at the bottom.

The inside is gray with white lettering.

Super bland. Now let's take a closer look at that inside cover:

Yup. That's the group doing their best Kobe in LA Times Magazine impressions. Tip is barefoot. Ali Shaheed seems to be wrapped in a towel and wearing sandals. Phife looks like he's staring at Ali's sandals, about to roast him (WHAT ARE THOOOOOOSE?!) but then he remembered that he's wearing white jeans. This looks like some New Age, adult contemporary shit.

I'm being a little harsh, but this was a marked departure for the group. On the other hand, this was right after the start of the "Jiggy era." with the shiny suits and ultra commercialism. So in a sense, they still bucked the trends of the modern music scene, they just did it in a mature, adult way. That's not as much fun, sure, but it's real, and that is pure Tribe.

Their musical themes similarly grew; their focus on love is understandable and commendable. They lost the aggressiveness of the last album, maybe because they, like many of us, were heartbroken at the deaths in rap. Or maybe they got a better record deal. Or maybe they knew this was their last album (until now!) and they were relieved. Whatever the case, this has a much more positive outlook than Beats, Rhymes and Life.

I was devastated when I learned this would be their last album, but it did encourage me to see them on their "farewell tour" at the Palladium in Worcester. Slum Village even opened for them! I had just heard about them; they were being called the torchbearers for the Native Tongue sound. Sadly, two of their members (Dilla and Baatin) have since died, along with Phife of course. It was an incredible show and I'm glad I got the chance to see them all.

Let's get into the movement!

We could all use a little more love these days. And Crown.

Start It Up

Terrific opener, but what else did you expect on a Tribe album? It opens with a quiet, spooky voice saying I hope yall ready...are yall ready? Then the bass and drums kick in. It's a serious head nodder and a great adrenaline boost. Q-Tip's verse has a staccato flow that emphasizes the first word of each bar on the drum kick. It's definitely a different vibe. Maybe it's his off-kilter flow or the off-kilter drum pattern? The drums hit you in the chest, and combined with Tip's emphatic jabs (get it off your chest, say it "Tribe Called Quest!") it makes me want to get up and throw elbows. Besides maybe Scenario, I never really felt that with Tribe music.

Tip introduces the movement for love and encourages people to get off your ass and let's start.

An important message that resonates today.

Find A Way

This is the album's lead single and lone video. It has a light, airy organ (or maybe harp?) sample playing throughout over Dilla's deep bass and drum kicks. The chorus has a great melody and it's easy to sing along with. Now you caught my heart for the evening, kissed my cheek moved in you confused things. It's real playful and pop-ish, like an updated Bonita Applebum.

This set the tone of the album. As the album art suggested, it's kind of adult contemporary rap, but not nearly as corny as Father MC or PM Dawn.

Phife and Tip each take a turn with the chorus at different parts of the song, and they deliver verses with typically great wordplay. It was an excellent lead single and apparently accomplished its goal, considering the album reached gold status a month after its release.

Da Booty

Tip starts off with a silly riddle about, well, booty. The chorus is simply Da booty, da da booty, da boot Ta ay with Tip shouting in the background. 

There's all types of drums knocking: kicks, snares, bass. Definitely a huge Dilla influence.

Much like the last song, this is a good representation of the album as a whole: great drums, mellowed out samples, and playful raps.

Da booty...if you is a crook then you taking it!

The biggest difference on the album are the beats. They are a little more skittish, less of the straight grooves of the first 3 albums; instead of the feeling of constantly pushing forward, many of the beats feel like they are constantly starting and stopping. They push forward then pull back. It's also evident in their flows; they are more staccato than usual. Again, still really good, just different.

Steppin' It Up feat. Busta Rhymes, Redman

I said this for every album so far, but damn, the sequencing and transitions are ridiculously good. The first note of this song comes in right after the last note of the previous song, so it's a seamless continuation, like a different movement of the same symphony.

This is another hard knocking, deep bass, jittery drum gem. Busta Rhymes and Tribe is a hall of fame connection on its own, plus they throw Redman in there? My favorite rapper ever? Just unfair. Excessive. I wasn't ready for this collabo when it came out and I forgot how incredible it was.

This is undoubtedly a classic, but it has more of a typical Golden Era/Dilla vibe than a Tribe vibe, per se. That's one of the only drawbacks of the album: it has a less distinctive Tribe sound. That's where the disconnect is, and why it's not as memorable as their previous efforts.

Still, Redman ends the song with:

Whoo-whoo! Funk Doc gets the money, 
And best believe I went through more trees than Sonny
Me, Kamal, Busta Bus, Phife Dawg
Shittin, pussy niggas get Lysol! it still has its share of memorable moments.

Like It like That

This is a solid jam for this album, but would have been average on previous albums..

It has a similar drum pattern as the last couple songs, but with a crazy reverberating sample on top. Tip kills it from the get go. Phife helps out with the chorus, a simple Do you like it? Then Tip responds, say yeah if you like it like that!

At times there's a cool echo effect on Tip's voice, which works well with the reverberating sample. The whole song has a psychedelic vibe. It has really good energy and Tip is on point for his two verses.

Common Ground (Get It Goin' On)

What you doin here...get from my face Tip raps while a kazoo sound effect plays in the background. This is a mediocre beat, with a somewhat annoying organ/keyboard groove throughout. The stuttering drums on this and some of the other tracks are not the greatest fit, either.

For the first verse, Tip raps a bar, then a group of voices reply on the next bar. When Phife does his verse, he uses the same flow, but instead of a group of voices replying, the kazoo replies. It's also somewhat annoying. The chorus is lackluster, too.

I still like it, but this might be my least favorite Tribe song.

Give Me feat. N.O.R.E.

Did I speak too soon? This is an interesting song. I didn't like it when I first heard it, mostly because of the chorus. Tip reinterprets I-Level and Boyz II Men, singing off-key Give Me...just Give Me... Nore Phife Dawg and Abstract. Tip sounds like he's the lead in a community theater musical. Plus, the chorus doesn't even really make sense.

But that's also kinda what makes it great? Like, a few glasses of Crown and I'm crooning right along with him, no cares in the world.

This was long before horrible singing was the wave in rap (Fetty Wap, Drake, Lil Yachty, Drake).  I was always a little thrown off by Tip's singing on the chorus, but it had an undeniable charm, too. It was inspiring: if he wasn't afraid to sing and sound like that, I could sing, too. Hello, future parody music video career.

Not to mention, Nore is always a top tier guest rapper, and he spits two verses here! Love Movement no doubt. 

There is cool scratching at the beginning and end, and everyone does their thing on the verses. Overall, it isn't the best song on the album, and it has a sound that's very distinct from their usual vibe, but it's one of the more memorable songs.

4 Moms feat. Spanky

I still dont know who the hell Spanky is, but this is a cool,  mellow, funky groove to play out side one of the cassette. On the first album, they'd let the end of songs play out for a while. It was a cool way to build atmosphere and create transitions. This serves a similar purpose but it is the first time they had a track that was strictly instrumental. I wish they did more of this, but I also kinda wish they rapped on this. They would've rode this groove beautifully; plus there's a great electric guitar sample near the end that could've come in real nice on the hook. But I digress.

Flip the tape!

His Name Is Mutty Ranks

Phife starts off side two in his infamous patois Live and direct! Live and direct! Do you know what live and direct mean?!?!

The beat has that dope little keyboard boop boop ba doop ba doop doop badoop da doop doop thing over classic hip hop drums. There's also that scratchy, almost echo-like effect on Phife's voice as he raps, making it sound like it's a live recording at the park.

After a typically great verse, he sings for a bit at the end say you not ready for this yet boy and it's over. A short and sweet, hard-hitting Phife solo. This was one of my faves for sure.

Pad & Pen feat D-Life

D-Life acts as the host, a la DJ Red Alert, and does the introduction and adlibs throughout. It continues with that live block party feel that was established on the last song. There's a reverberating, seemingly downbeat keyboard note played throughout, over a funky, upbeat groove. It makes for an interesting mix.

Phife and Tip go back and forth on their verses then handle the chorus together. The song is an ode to the art of hip hop and the importance of friendship.  My pad and my pen, the beat and the blend, the party won't end, so Keep gettin ends, Building with friends. It's hard to believe they were in turmoil.

As Phife says, though, Comedy can quickly turn to tragedy. Ain't that the truth.

Busta's Lament

This has a great start with the horns and drums, cutting in and out before the beat actually starts. It does that a few times throughout the song to emphasize a lyric or hook. The beat is really centered on that horn. It's a mellow head-nodder.

Phife and Tip have great verses, but the best part of the song are the several breakdowns.
After Phife's verse, the guys do a mini hook (Just) get it together, get it together (just) get it together. Then Tip does the chorus and there's another breakdown with the Busta yo yo yo yo sample. At the very end, rapper Know Naim (more like Horrible Name) gives a shoutout to the woooorrlld. It all comes together for a cool, laid-back jam.

Hot 4 U

This is another mediocre song. The rhymes are subpar; they are mostly just talking about girls and their own talents on the mic or in bed. Basically, it's just another day with Phife, anyway, although, to be fair, I'd give up a lot for just another day with Phife.

At certain parts, especially the chorus, there's this rising high pitched sound that keeps building and eventually peaks, then starts to come back down. It's kind of like a teakettle (making the song hot for you). There's also a cool xylophone sound during the chorus. Again, even the mediocre songs have many highlights.

Against the World

Back at you, right back at you.

This is dope. Me and you girl we go against the world. Yea the world.

This is another staccato beat. It makes you bop rather than groove. There's all sorts of sounds: the brush drum shooka shooka shook shooka, the little keyboard (?) doot doot at the end of each bar, the female voice responding to the guys on the chorus, Tip speaking French.

This is a great example of their still potent chemistry. Tip and Phife exchange lyrics, often going back and forth on the same bar. Tip: Prominent. Phife: Dominant. Sometimes they even finish each other's sentences.

There's also the cool effect when they say Slow you doowwwwwwwwwn...and the whole song slows to a full stop, then starts back up when they say pick you up! Even on their most "mature" album, they were always willing to experiment with sounds and styles.

The Love

Tip talks to us at the beginning So many people right now motivated to do some bullshit for some bullshit ass reasons. But we bout to put it into a love perspective.

Then the chorus starts We do it all for the love yall! Whether white, black, spanish, aint a thug yall! Tip proves again that he's very much underrated when it comes to rap choruses.

This has a ultra-positive vibe and it's impossible not to at least somewhat enjoy a song like this. It's another laid back beat with more straightforward drums and a light, jazzy sample; some might even call it pretty. On the verses, Tip shouts out some adlibs and often doubles up on the lyrics, so it's like two Tips rhyming. It's a cool effect but it leads to the question: where's Phife? Maybe he felt it would be hypocritical to appear on a song about "doing it all for the love"? Or maybe I'm reading too much into it? There's always a few Q-Tip solos on every album, so I don't really know.

Regardless, this is one of those timeless Tribe album cuts that could have easily been a single.

Rock Rock Y'all feat Punchline, Jane Doe, Wordsworth, Mos Def

This has a cool guitar sample over the drums. It's mellow, but funky enough to be enjoyable for the entirety of the song, unlike many posse cut beats.

Rock rock yall freak freak yall to the beat yall it's unique yall.

It's no Scenario, but it's a cool posse cut and album closer, so there are definite similarities.

Punchline has a good opening verse with some solid...punchlines. Jane Doe is above average and spits a quick "lyrical miracle" type verse. Wordsworth is next, and he does this interesting rising octave to falling octave in his bars. He's got some funny lines as well. Tip follows up with a typically solid verse, and then the closer: MOS DEF! This was one of the first times I heard him and I was an immediate fan.

They chant the chorus again and the song fades out. The song, and especially the chorus, is a throwback to block parties and the early Golden Era of rap. As usual, it seems simple on the surface, but there are a lot of layers to peel back. They are referencing old school rap while introducing the new school of rappers, closing out their careers by repping the history and passing the torch. Beautfiul.

Then there's 6 minutes of silence to preserve continuity. Cassette technology, baby!

If you had the CD, on the other hand, your lucky, keep-up-with-modern-techonology ass got all these bonus tracks:

Scenario Remix (feat Kid Hood and Leaders of the New School) 
Money Maker
Hot Sex
Oh My God [Remix] 
Jazz (We've Got) (Re-Recording Radio) 
One Two Shit (feat Busta Rhymes)

Look at that! You think I wasn't pissed when my friend put in his CD and a damn Scenario Remix started playing?! I DIDN'T KNOW THE SCENARIO REMIX EXISTED UNTIL 1998! I was clueless about a remix to my favorite song ever for 7 years! That is my greatest fault as a hip hop fan.  This really forced me to reconsider my preferred media. I had no choice at this point. I got my first CDs and CD player later that year for Christmas. ATCQ and the cassette era were both over.

Damn. Really solid way to go out though.

4 THUGS out of 5

Alas, the era of the mp3 is here and a new ATCQ album has arrived! Rejoice!

I Love You All...Class Dismissed. 

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