Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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For nearly 10 years, A Tribe Called Quest spoke for a hip hop audience that was proud to be black but not ashamed to be middle-class. Their musical signature was jazz-based beats--famously, bassist Ron Carter was all over 1991's The Low End Theory. For outsiders, Anthology (Jive) is an ear-opening introduction to Quest's left-field songcraft and swinging verbal byplay. Quest's realism is about the homely detail rather than the gory story, and if their bits and pieces often add up to something surprisingly spacy, they never said life was something you got on a platter. That's why their audience took them seriously.

Quest was a collective, but no one ever doubted who was the star communard--Q-Tip, whose solo debut marks a major musical departure even though his flow and the calm assurance it signifies remain intact. Amplified (Arista) begins with a candidly inhuman electrobeat that has zip to do with Ron Carter, although once you acclimate you may prefer it. Throughout, self-confident hard funk reflects the rapper's longtime individual presence on the New York rap scene. There's nothing offhand or modest here--stating his credentials or coming on to a honey, Q-Tip is ready to compete with the big braggarts. But he's not shy about stating his principles: "I don't do bitch and I don't do tricks/I stay doing me while you stay laying bricks." Amplified is his bet that his style of intelligence can reach millions of rap fans that his crew couldn't.

Anyone who wished they could hear today's black pop as more than a slick mystery on the radio should invest in the near-perfect compilation MTV: The First Thousdand Years: R&B. Standout contributors include Aaliyah, Jodeci, Brandy, and Montell Jordan--none of whom has ever released a must-hear album.

Playboy, Dec. 1999

Nov. 1999 Jan. 2000