Recommend if you like: De La Soul, Talib Kweli, Marshall Mathers LP 2

Expectation: The first album since 1998 from legendary New York hip hop group A Tribe Called Quest, and the first to feature vocals from original member Jarobi White. Released following the death of core member Phife Dawg earlier this year, the album marks an official end to one of the most influential hip hop groups of all time.

NOTEWORTHY TRACKS

  • Space Program – Exactly what I was hoping for from this album. Q-Tip and Jarobi show up in top form, setting up a huge verse from Phife. The flows are as smooth as the instrumentals.
  • We the People… – Not a huge fan of Tip’s vocal experimentation on this track, or the loud rock drums. Not bad, but not my favorite
  • Whateva Will Be – Really like the samples on this track, though they were a bit too loud in the mix. The group’s flows sound like they’ve spent the last decade studying Black Star, but they pull it off pretty well.
  • Solid Wall of Sound – Although the classic rock sample gives me MMLP2 flashbacks, this track is okay. Its weird to hear the Tribe MC’s joining in on Busta’s chopper rapping, but kind of fun too. If only the rapping were the majority of the track. it could be great.
  • Dis Generation – Another track for the fans of Tribe’s older work. A great, jazzy instrumental with confident, smooth verses.
  • Kids… – Sounds like an Andre track from Stankonia or The Love Below. I’m not a fan of the hook, but hearing Q-Tip and 3stacks trading bars is a dream come true for me, so I’ll let it slide.
  • Melatonin – These smooth tracks are definitely the highlights of the album for me. Q-Tip sounds immensely better over jazzy beats.
  • Mobius – I’m all for weird samples, but this sample and Busta Rhymes sound like they’ve never met one another. It could be saved if there were some loud, hard drums on top of the sample, but instead the percussion is sparse and light, completely at odds with Busta’s hectic, shouted verse.
  • Black Spasmodic – A weird sample that actually works. Q-Tip has a great verse.
  • The Killing Season – Jarobi kills his verse, and Kanye drops a nice hook that is so downplayed I didn’t even realize it was him the first time I heard it
  • Movin Backwards – Sometimes I wish Anderson Paak didn’t so thoroughly dominate every track that he appears on, but when the result is this good, I can’t complain.
  • Conrad Tokyo – Kendrick kills his verse over jazzy production (possible new direction???). I am glad that this song exists though, even if it could use significantly more rapping.
  • The Donald – Braggadocio on behalf of the departed. Surprisingly moving.

Overall: First I just want to say that the fact that this album exists is unbelievable. A Tribe reunion album with all four original members + Busta Rhymes and Consequence on multiple tracks, with features from Andre 3000 and Kendrick Lamar. Its so over-the-top its almost ridiculous to think its real. However, this isn’t the same Tribe of the early 90’s; the samples are noisier and Q-Tip’s rhymes more adventurous. Fortunately, Phife remains ever traditionalist, ensuring there’s something here for fans of the group’s classic work. In a way, this is a very difficult album to review for me; Tribe holds a very special place in my heart, so it was impossible not to have certain expectations. Because the group pushes to make something different, I was tempted to reject their efforts and say that the group had lost their spark. But not all of the group’s experiments fall flat; Q-Tip’s vocal explorations happen upon moments of brilliance, the loud, bold samples create memorable a fun grooves, and Jarobi sounds right at home alongside Tip and Phife. The group easily could have replicated the smooth jazz rap that made them famous, but they didn’t, and instead we got to see them make something new, showing a new side to their artistry. RIP Phife Dawg, you will be missed.

Score: 7.5/10

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