Back in 1998 many a hip-hop fan justifiably lamented the loss of A Tribe Called Quest. After five albums one of the genre’s most innovative collectives decided to call it quits following The Love Movement. Nevertheless, whilst their final release featured strong moments such as the superb “Find a Way” and “Busta’s Lament,” the magic that was evident on such classics as People’s Instinctive Travels (1990), The Low End Theory (1991), and Midnight Marauders (1993), was all but gone.
Since then each member of the trio has gone on to new pastures. Phife has released the Jay Dee-produced double A-side “Bend Ova/Thought U Wuz Nice” through German label Groove Attack, whilst Ali Shaheed has gone on to produce some truly inspired music for the likes of Eric Benet, Laurnea, Jon B, and Angie Stone. Furthermore, Shaheed also constitutes one third of the much-vaunted soul supergroup Lucy Pearl (also Raphael Saadiq and Dawn Robinson), whose album has just hit the streets. But what of Q-Tip?
Well, if one had believed his verse on Slum Village’s “Hold Tight” you could have been forgiven for believing that he was planning to throw in the towel altogether:
“Hold Tight this is the last time you hear me,
I’m out now this is the last time to cheer me…
I’m a leave it in the hands of the Slum now.”
In terms of the last statement, one listen to Slum Village’s superb debut album Fantastic Volume II (Wordplay, UK) will ensure you that they are indeed carrying the Tribal torch. With former Tribe producer Jay Dee behind the desk a sense of continuity is evident. However, with regard to the first statement, as Amplified will testify, Q-Tip is a man still very much in the game.
Save for two tracks, Q-Tip’s individual debut is almost entirely produced by himself and the masterful Jay Dee. In fact EPMD affiliate DJ Scratch is the only other producer, contributing two joints (“Do It” & “N.T”). Weighing in at only 47 minutes the album could be criticised for its brevity, but I would argue that this in fact works to the set’s advantage. Indeed, being this short Amplified becomes a highly accessible work that can be easily digested and which rarely bores the listener. In many ways the only weak moments are the sparse “Go Hard,” the lethargic “All In,” and the Korn-featured “End of Time.”
Amplified‘s content is very much a vibe-orientated affair. Infectious hooks, Jay Dee’s trademark keys, and some seriously funky beats all work to create a captivating soundscape upon which Q-Tip drops his traditionally abstract rhymes. By now everybody should be familiar with “Breathe and Stop.” Sampling Kool & The Gang’s “N.T,” some seriously dirty bass guitar work and an incessant hand-clapping beat all make this a future classic. Elsewhere, Jay Dee’s rolling keys make “Higher” and “Things U Do” moments to savour. Interestingly, the latter also features some rather nice muted brass. Meanwhile “Moving with U” could have easily found itself on Fantastic Volume II. With it’s repetitive almost stuttering spoken hook, it unashamedly basks in the glory of the Slum. In addition to these DJ Scratch contributes the Latinesque “Do It” and the exceptional “N.T.” Significantly, with Busta Rhymes providing the hook over Scratch’s heavy beat, this is in many ways the album’s darkest moment. Other noteworthy moments also come in the shape of the almost marching beat and exceptional guitar work of “Let’s Ride,” and the Barry White sampling single “Vivrant Thing.”
Whilst Amplified is by no means a complete classic, it is a highly memorable work. Largely produced by Q-Tip and Jay Dee, it has a cohesive unity that is sorely lacking in many hip-hop albums. Rather than drafting in a ‘who’s who’ of the genre’s ‘it’ producers Q-Tip reunites with his long-term collaborator to create an album that is very much his own. Jay Dee’s influence may at times leave traces of Slum Village, but one must remember that they are very much a product of the Tribe’s pioneering spirit. Furthermore, with Busta Rhymes as the only guest emcee (I try to forget the appearance of Korn) the set is constructed on Q-Tip’s terms. He does not dilute his presence by falling into the marketing trap of releases such as Black Rob’s Life Story. In fact, Amplified is not a marketing tool for future artists and does not rely upon high profile guests (Busta Rhymes is of course an established Tribe collaborator: “Scenario”/“Steppin’ It Up”). Consequently, what we have is an infectious and punchy debut that is only denied a more exalted status by three tracks.