photo & text by nacrowe
BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE (JIVE, 1996) is an INTRIGUING A TRIBE CALLED QUEST album in that it marks Q-TIP's growing PSYCHIC and EMOTIONAL DISTANCE from the project in the wake of producing and all around masterminding what are now considered STONE-COLD HIP HOP classics MIDNIGHT MARAUDERS (JIVE, 1991) and THE LOW END THEORY (JIVE, 1991). this record is basically where he handed some of the reigns over to outside producers, including the relatively UNKNOWN, up-and-coming DETROIT production whiz JAMES YANCEY, a.k.a. J DILLA.
when i got into A TRIBE CALLED QUEST in high school i listened to their records completely out of order. so BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE was actually the first of their albums i became acquainted with, and the hands down the track that stood above all others was the LAIDBACK, J DILLA-composed "GET A HOLD." it has this HARD-HITTING beat that is pulled way, way back and has this undeniably LAZY, BREEZY energy that is absolutely CONTAGIOUS. between that beat and hearing Q-TIP likewise stretch out the syllables in "com-for-tab-le" in the verse, i was hooked and basically sought out the rest of their discography in short order.
taken as a whole, this album suffers in comparison to its two aforementioned predecessors. funnily enough BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE reminds me of similar predicaments by bands like METALLICA, JANE'S ADDICTION or WEEZER whose above average late career work is totally OVERSHADOWED by their TRANSCENDENT earlier material. its not that its subpar, its just that it is competing with PERFECTION. and a not fully engaged Q-TIP relegates this album and its follow-up THE LOVE MOVEMENT (JIVE, 1998) to the same cultural forgotten territory despite EXCELLENT singles. interestingly enough, their final album WE GOT IT FROM HERE... THANK U FOR YOUR SERVICE (EPIC, 2016) released almost two decades later is a return to form and is arguably their FINEST hour.
is BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE worth checking out? of course. A TRIBE CALLED QUEST is arguably the GREATEST HIP HOP group of all time [my opinion], so everything they released is worth listening to, even the solo albums. "MOTIVATORS," "PHONY RAPPERS," "1NCE AGAIN," "THE JAM" and of course "GET A HOLD" are all STANDOUT tracks. but id venture that this record is best enjoyed as a supplement to their more CELEBRATED and universally REVERED earlier albums. it gives you a sense of their creative arc as a unit and what it sounds like once such an entity begins to break down.
RIP PHIFE DAWG.
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