Monday, June 23, 2008

Looking Back at "The Love Movement" by A Tribe Called Quest

A Tribe Called Quest are one of the leading groups in hip-hop.. Emerging from the East Coast scene in 1990 with their fellow Native Tongues Collective (De La Soul, Monie Love, Queen Latifah, Prince Paul, Jungle Brothers, etc.) they blended intelligent and forward momentum rhymes with jazz/hip-hop fusion musical backdrops.

Q-Tip (Kamaal Fareed), Phife Dawg (Malik Taylor), and Ali Shaheed Muhammad released three records from 1990 through 1993 to critical, commercial, and creative acclaim: People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990), The Low End Theory (1991), and Midnight Marauders (1993). Those albums personified the jazz/hip-hop bybrid sound and became classics. In other words, any records coming after this "Tribe Trinity" were doomed to be deemed inferior because they weren't those albums.

Case and point with 1996's bleak, but brilliant Beats, Rhymes, and Life co-produced by the late, prolific J Dilla (James Dewitt Yancey). Trading in their plump, organic hybrids for a slender, sleek sound didn't resonate with everyone. In-fighting amongst the group also became a factor.

Ten years ago, September 29th 1998, Tribe's fifth album The Love Movement arrived to raised eyebrows. Production was handled by "The Ummah," a term for the three Tribesman and J Dilla and the group they had formed. On the first listen, The Love Movement steered the same lean wheel that drove Beats, Rhymes, and Life. Further inspection showed that a basic, skeletal groove acted as the foundation for subtle, but plentiful phonic treats.

Ali, Tribe's D.J., assisted Dilla in layering the razor sharp thump-bumps with an atmospheric membrane of broken dialogue and samples. Once concoted, the creations of Dilla and Ali were woven with care to churn and shift in and out of various song plateaus. The Love Movement functioned as a unified whole, a feast of hip-hop minimalism at its best.

Thematically, the confrontational tone from Beats, Rhymes, and Life was eagerly exchanged for an uplifting topic: love. Affection for the art of the emcee, life, and of course the general beast of love were handled in that classic and handsome Tribe flavor.

Starting with Tribe's love of hip-hop music you had the stuttering, shoulder popping opener "Start It Up" which banged with an attitudinal sneer. "Pad & Pen," a playful exchange of flow mastery between Phife and Tip, verse trade in a pendulum-like fashion swung casually back and forth. "Da Booty," an allusion to both treasure and one's derriere, a clattering party starter.

It was the area of relationships where Tribe shined in handling the matter and conveying another realm of excellence in their lyrical pace. The troubling duality of flirtation was examined on the lead single, the space-age fluidity of "Find a Way." Phife's detached hook, "Now you caught my heart for the evening, kiss my cheek, move in, you confused things. Now should I just sit out or come harder, help me find my way!" jumped into the maddeningly loquacious verbiage of Tip's verse attack. The narrative is nestled in the buoyancy of the track itself, with zig-zagging scratches that moved from one end of the cut to the other.

"Common Ground (Get It Goin' On)" stood out, finding the man as a victim in the claustrophobic confines of a woman who viewed a relationship as a one-way street. An interesting mixture of male sensitivity and swagger, without compromise for either one, was awesome. "Against the World,"  foreplay a la carte, Q-Tip tauntied his lady with an invite to "taste his lips," while he "unlaces his Nike's" to get ready for the deed.

"Find a Way"
Directed By: Paul Hunter

The record ran 15 cuts deep with original material, an additional six remixes of their classic material ("Oh My God," "Scenario," etc.)  placed at the tail of the record. Unneeded, but possibly Tribe's way of bidding their audience "adieu" with their impending break-up on the horizon with the release of this album. Only a few of the original cuts ("Steppin' It Up," "Rock, Rock Y'all") didn't quicken the musical heart. Majority of the songs barely rose over three minutes, hence The Love Movement's pace being smooth and clean.

The Love Movement met mixed critical and commercial attitudes, it managed modest returns it attained gold certification in the States. A Tribe Called Quest's last album is a tour de force of hip-hop artistry, despite any inner or outer turmoil. In this time, when most "dime bag" acts attempts to sport hip-hop minimalism, this Tribe album stands as an example of what hip-hop was and can be. Four stars out of five.-QH

[Editor's Note: The Love Movement is still readily in print and easily found at any music retailer.-QH]

1 comment:

S. Flemming said...

I need to dig this out. I didn't like it at all when it first came out ... but I should probably give it another chance. I was so hurt when these dudes broke up. I still have the Source magazine!