Tribe Called Quest makes jazz and hip-hop work together smoothly, like butter

Feb 24, 2006
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Nice tracks, interesting horn stabs, great bass and some lyrics were not bad as well

Cons:Songs about tennis shoes and Aresnio sound dated, let's face it, I'm a West Coaster.

The Bottom Line: The Abstract said much, and Carter's upright bass sound is inimitable. But the rap is only half good, for every deep idea there was a line about nikes or boning.

Is this from Quincy, uh nope

But it does have jazz. So I’m a little late to the Tribe Called Quest party, it can’t be held against me – I was busy listening to Wayne Shorter, Lucky Thompson and Michael Brecker. But it is jazz, and it is rap – and it is a delicious blending of the two, it’s a swirl cone my people – right from the boardwalk.

Second albums are usually troublesome releases. They are a big chance for a band to fall on their faces. If the first album was fantastic, then the comparisons are inevitabl. If the second album is weaker than the first the same thing happens. Most groups try to put their best foot forward with the material on thier first record. And then if they have a hit they have to hurry the production on the second as well. As a sophomore effort, this one had all of it going on.

The rhymes are smooth as silk, and the ideas are hefty. They don’t completely abandon the darker side of rap; they just play around it for a good long while. But don’t let that fool you people. They charted, and the charted and they charted. This album spawned a Billboard Hot Rap #1 Single with Check the Rhime. It also landed in the top 20 of Hot R&B/Hip Hop albums in 1991. This was an album that was recognized for its greatness during the lifetime of the artists in question.

Ron Carter sits in on this one, and so we have a solid and heavily legit jazz bass player guiding the dance.

The Tunes Themselves

1. Excursions – Hip hop reminds his daddy of be-bop, and he says it’s just cyclical. Ron Carter just plays a single lick, and the drum track is simple to nothing, just air. The ideas are the key. Some gentle, but vague horn samples – sound like old tracks from the fifties. They are talking about a lot of positive motion, and neither abandoning your roots, nor your goals.

2. Buggin’ Out – Here is the second song mentioning tennis shoes in a row. But clearly that is not the Abstract Poet. The bass line is really delightful though. The flow of Ron Carter makes this one happen. The bass line fills the whole track. In this one he is talking about both Dr. Pepper and New Balances. Last tune they were talking about Nikes. As he gets “in between the grit and the dirt.” This no doubt had some influence on Stanton Moore and his “all kooked out cover.” The migraine is mentioned, and that is some buggin’ kind of pain.

3. Rap Promoter – Conflict and poison instead of making music, the guys attack the ugly hearted rappers here. This one starts with a little wah-wah guitar, just a simple line over the top of the drums. “If there ain’t no dough, then there ain’t no show.” They call the promoters rolly polly fatty. They don’t need him, but the story is the story – musicians are always getting ripped off, always was, always will be. So I say yeah, attack these nerve wracking bastiches…..let em have it.

4. Butter The borrowed some jazz at the beginning, something from Weather Report. I guess they do have jazz, a nice sample. He had the girl flo playing with his mind. He was “a stone cold lover.” They call themselves a super ho, which is hilarious. Butter is how they play up to the girlies, this song is HILARIOUS. The girls are “bionic ladies”, he might have talked to them had there been some reality. The horn section is smooth too, and there is a background singer in unison with the horn parts.

5. Verses From The Abstract Buster Rhymes is in effect, in his dream – and he sings about his funkiness, and his soap. The truth is he is singing about truth, about the neighborhood, about the music, about his friends, about craig, t-rock, CL, ultra mag, nice-n-smooth, beat nutz, special ed, big daddy kane, they are all in the house. The groove is really easy and flowing with that HUGE bass sound. They thank Ron at the end of the song for doing his bass thanks to Ron Carter as he is also in the house. He is worth every minute of listening.

6. Show Business – A big Rap-off here with Q-Tip and Phife doing battle with Brand Nubian’s Diamond D, Lord Jamar and Sadat X. “all you wanna do is taste the fruit, but in the back they got the fruit juice” – They come after bootleggers, fools who can’t rhyme and unclever lyrics. The production quality is simple, straight ahead – some tiny horn bites sprayed here and there in between breaks. The words are all there is to it. Toward the end they toss a tiny bit of sonic synthesizer.

7. Vibes and Stuff Start out with a sax lick, again, fuzzy maybe Zoot Simms or Sonny Rollins, can I name that horn player in five notes? And they foreshadow their next album, Q-tip says he is the midnight Marauder. And then Pfife takes it on, talking about who he is, and the vibe that they have. They step from city to city, building a powerful and easy series for DJs to cut out and use in their station promos. They do it better than Huey Lewis with his calling out cities in the heart of Rock n Roll. Nice dedications at the end to their pops and friends who have fallen.

8. The Infamous Date Rape The keyboards come sneaking in atop the drums with some eerie water effects, and dark blues chords. The lyrics are all about – “hit the jack, and all of that.” The guys are ready to bone, but sometimes the honeys are not – and they are ready to set the mood, and “take it to the hilt.” They are definitely singing against the unbidden fuck.

9. Check The Rhime These guys are some breakin’ fools, the music hesitates constantly, and the guys are flying around with their lyrics. The horns start this one off powerful. They are very possibly synth driven, and the sound is thin and far off. The pattern of the rap is a nice bouncing groove over the top of the rhythm. This is one where the words matter a lot less than the idea of scatting on top of the funk. They use real words, so it is not technically scat, but that is the feel itself.

10. Everything is Fair This has a seventies feel initially, and then the electric bass starts thudding, the production is weak on this tune. The lyrics are okay, talking about a relationship, with a girlie who is “playing the mob.” She always smelled good, and was all about business. But sadly, she had a cousin who gave him some booty on the side. And in spite of it all, she is heading for the “top, top, top.”

11. Jazz (We’ve Got) The track is spooky sounding underneath it all, a lot of keys with that tight upright bass. The rap is okay, singing about having the jazz, and what it is good for. Then a little horn play in the middle does confirm that they have the jazz for sure. The give some props to Shabba Ranks, and to his boy Tip. “So please let the abstract embellish on the song.” And he does, with a little gentle trumpet sliding across the top of it all.

12. SkyPager Baritone sax at the bottom end of the intro, and then into a quiet snare drum with brushes and acoustic upright base, this is another example of Ron Carter making the track for all it’s worth. The gentlemen are singing about the benefits and necessity of a new SkyPager. Do you know the importance of a SkyPager? At least on this one they didn’t sing about tennis shoes.

13. What? A cute clavinet line starts this one out and the comic rap explores what are things without other things. It is in some ways a funny attack at Sting with his “that’s my soul out there…” – and some of them are pretty cool…”what’s Ralph Cramden, without Ed Norton?” – “What’s Duke Ellington without That Swing?” “What’s is a compound without an element?” This one is fun and still complex.

14. Scenario The drum kicks in hard with an almost military beat, a march and that is the attitude of the rappers. They attack the words, and fly over the top of the music, and the music is light. The guys are singing about themselves on this one. They do have the jazz. The groove is solid and powerful. This is another tune with a reference to Arsenio…..he was hot back then.

And In The End The bass lines are pure gold, Ron Carter makes the lower end of the grooves wicked funky. He is a straight ahead jazz player, and his contribution to the feel of this album is sexy, and dead on funky. And then there is the borrowing from Weather Report, one of my very favorite jazz bands ever. These guys did make their rhymes meet up with some serious jazz. They sprinkled horn lines in and out of the music, and their rapping had some substance to it. They consciously decided to move more in the positive than many of their rapping counterparts, made themselves famous by doing so. And they don’t shy away from singing about the music business and the various temptations involved in all of that. Their songs about women are pretty hysterical, and yet not horribly demeaning. They can’t help it, a little – calling the dolled up honeys bionic women, with all of their spare parts and additions.

This is well worth a listen, and the marriage of hip-hop and jazz is both interesting and lovely to behold.

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