Tribe Called Quest’s album tracks evolution of hip-hop

Hip-hop, in 1988, was a young experiment with obnoxious beats, gold chains and macho posturing. By the end of 1998, the frontiers of abstract, that only jazz had been able to tap into, had been explored by a party of cosmonaut emcees called A Tribe Called Quest.

Born in the basements of Brooklyn and dedicated to the art of moving butts, Tribe opened the doors to the dimensions that appeared to be non-existent in the age of Digital Underground and Run DMC. A Tribe Called Quest: Anthology (Jive Records) takes you down the path of Tribe’s evolution from its creation in 1988 to its amiable break-up in 1998.

With jazzy horn interludes, laid-back beats, dark bass lines, mind melting vibes and amazing rhymes, A Tribe Called Quest makes an electric tapestry of sounds that bring a little bit of the African mystique to the urban streets. Dubbed alternative rap by critics, the trio of emcees, known as Phife, Ali and Q-Tip, were at the forefront of a hip-hop quest for depth that included De La Soul and Digable Planets.

The group’s best work has been compiled in its latest release. With sounds you could wear like warm pajamas on a winter day, Anthology contains 19 tracks and does its best to comprehensively represent A Tribe Called Quest. In the album, there are trips into the abstract on songs such as Jazz (We’ve Got), Electric Relaxation and Buggin’ Out. But there’s also humor on track such as Luck of Lucien and I Left My Wallet in El Segundo. And then there’s Hot Sex (On a Platter) and Bonita Applebum – some straight-up greasy beats to bump and grind to.

Anthology leans heavily on the group’s debut album, 1990’s People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. Five tracks from Tribe’s first album appear on Anthology. The group’s breakthrough and revolutionary hip-hop excursion, 1991’s The Low End Theory, also is represented by four songs, including the two hit singles, Check the Rhime and Scenario. There’s a helping of songs off 1993’s Midnight Marauders, including Award Tour and Electric Relaxation. Midnight Marauders helped Tribe to break into the alternative music scene and to grab a spot on the Lollapalooza concert tour.

Anthology is not chronologically arranged, giving the listener a schizophrenic impression of the group. A Tribe Called Quest was on a mission to evolve, so its early tracks sound archaic compared to its later ground-breaking tracks. You easily can pick out the older stuff. To the dismay of some fans, Tribe’s last two albums, 1996’s Beats, Rhymes, and Life and 1998’s The Love Movement, hardly are represented on Anthology. The only surprises on Anthology are some B-sides and Q-Tip’s new single with the Violator crew, Vivrant Thing.

Jazz rap or alternative hip-hop – eulogize ATribe Called Quest as you like. There is no doubting that the group was one of the greatest acts of the decade. Any artist who makes a record with the slightest turntable scratching would be following the path that Tribe paved in the studio and on stage for 10 years.

To true Tribe fans, Anthology does a fair job representing the band’s best music from its lucrative career. And to the casual fan that doesn’t want to buy all of Tribe’s albums, Anthology will do a great service. It would inspire anyone to go out and buy all of the group’s albums. If there is a hip-hop album that captures how far hip-hop has traveled in the past 10 years, Anthology fits the bill. With its insight into the abstract as well as its time-eroding grooves, it is truly indispensable.

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