Friday, September 27, 2013

9/29/98: 15 Years Later (The Love Movement)

A Tribe Called Quest is my favorite group of all time. Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders affected me deeply in college and Midnight Marauders is in my personal top 10 – not just hip-hop, but all time.When I saw their documentary last year, I was both happy and sad. Happy to relive my favorite things but sad to see how things fall apart after Midnight Marauders.

That's why it's hard for me to write about The Love Movement because it represents the end*. The end of Tribe. The end of an era. One of the saddest farewells in hip-hop and 15 years later, it still is sad thinking about it being the last album we have with Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and Ali Shaheed Muhammad.

Love Movement isn’t a bad record. It’s not on par with their first three but it’s better than Beats, Rhymes and Life. It’s a farewell where all the old friends gather to pay respects but it’s not a celebration.

 “Find a Way” is one of my favorites because the video reminds me of walking through the boardwalk of Santa Monica or San Diego and just enjoying the good life. It’s almost like an update of “Bonita Applebum” when you actually meet her and don’t want to let her go.

“Stepping It Up” sees old friends Busta Rhymes and Redman make an appearance trading off great verses with Tip and Phife. “His name is Mutty Ranks” was a personal favorite because I’ve always loved Phife’s solo cuts.

Part of the reason the farewell sounds so muted is because Tribe was deeply immersed in J. Dilla production. Dilla joined the team on “Beats, Rhymes and Life” but he’s grew into his confidence here. The music’s ambient and mellow – adjectives that became a hallmark of Dilla’s music. “Da Booty” and “Like It Like That” are laid-back with plenty of groove and foreshadowed the underground sound that’d dominate the upcoming decade.

If anything, this record is about Dilla as much as it’s about Tribe. It may not have been as bouncy as Midnight Marauders or simmering as Low End Theory but it was a perfect soundscape for saying goodbye without a victory lap.

I played this album a few times in college and I couldn’t get into all of it. But what I got into, I’ve loved to this. “4 Moms” is a beautiful instrumental that makes me appreciate my mother and Dilla for knowing how to be sweet without words.

Overall, you could hear Tribe trying one more time to recapture their magic. It was there in spots but it wasn’t there all the way. So they metaphorically passed the torch to Dilla, who carried on their creativity in his production. They unknowingly passed it to Black Star and OutKast and other groups like Tanya Morgan and Little Brother.

The bonus tracks are great because they remind you of Tribe’s potency. “Scenario” remix is awesome because of the new verses and the final appearance of Kid Hood. “Hot Sex” and the remix to “Jazz (We’ve Got)” show the best of Tribe when they’re lively and motivated.

Yet at some point you have to go separate ways. The bond may not be close but the love will always be there. I guess it’s like friendships that grow apart despite what you’ve been through. For fans like me, that love for Tribe will never go out.

I still get chills thinking about when I saw them in 2004 for their first performance since their breakup. The crowd erupted as the group stood on stage in silence. I think about Rock the Bells 2008 where the crowd went nuts for Tip’s solo work and then got even louder when all four came on stage.

But like all good things, the ride has to end**. Rap was changing and Tribe's sound - while still great - was about to be passed over for a new sound led by Timbaland, Swizz Beatz, the Neptunes and others. Q-Tip and Dilla did their best to evolve on Tip's solo debut and while the singles still hold well in my opinion***, folks were bummed it wasn't that Tribe sound.

While you might not be able to recreate that era, you can recapture it again in a different way. Tribe has done that through appearing at Rock The Bells and their documentary, which showed both the good and bad of their relationship.

The best part of that Tribe documentary, however, is seeing it end on a high note. The group being friendly and practicing their stage show. Seeing the love they’ve gotten from all over the world. That’s a fitting way to remember this album as their swan song.

Every goodbye ain’t gone and while it may not have been a great farewell, it was good enough to remind you what made Tribe so special in the first place.

*In a way, that's why the recent 10th anniversary of Speakerboxxx/Love Below is tough to write about. Much as I love "Love Below" and dig the best of "Speakerboxxx", it's the beginning of the end for another group I love. 
**Ironically, Tribe's last album was also a farewell for Jive Records as a hip-hop player. Thanks to the TRL era that started in 1998, Jive, the home of Whodini, Tribe, Too Short, DJ Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince, UGK, E-40 and others, eventually shuttered most of their hip hop roster and began chasing the more lucrative pop game. 
*** Try not to dance when "Breathe and Stop" or "Vivrant Thing" come on. In retrospect, Q-Tip was smart to make danceable rap and taste some pop success without going all the way over. But The Renaissance showed Tip's true genius as a producer, rapper, arranger. 

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