Album Review | A Tribe Called Quest – Beats, Rhymes & Life

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This album was released on July 30th in 1996. This was A Tribe Called Quest’s first non-classic album. I think it’s supposed to be a good project, but it’s not regarded as highly as their first three albums. I’ve seen a few quotes from Phife Dawg about this album, and he seemed pretty goddamn unenthusiastic about it. He said it felt like work. Hopefully I won’t be able to tell. This is also apparently their darkest album. I’m not sure if it’s because of the lyrical content or the style of production. I guess I’m about to find out. Every track is produced by The Ummah, except where noted.


I’m not gonna lie to y’all… I’ve been putting this review off for a LONG ass time. I wrote the preamble above on the first day of January, and I still haven’t listened to any of this album yet. It’s January 10th right now. I don’t know why I haven’t really been very enthusiastic about this album. Maybe it’s because I already finished listening to all of A Tribe Called Quest’s classic albums. I know this album is supposed to be a lot worse than their first three albums. I’ve actually been procrastinating by listening to a lot of non-Hip Hop albums. I think I’m finally ready to force myself to listen to this shit tho. I’m sure it’ll be good. Alright. Here we go.

Track 1: Phony Rappers

Okay, it’s starting now. Oh shit. Hahahaha. Wooow. I can’t believe I didn’t wanna listen to this shit. I’m a fucking idiot. Lmao. What the fuck was I thinking? This beat is fucking awesome. Q-Tip’s on the first verse. Oh shit. Okay, he fuckin’ killed that shit. This is so fucking dope. He was rapping about how he beat the dogshit outta some Puerto Rican kid in a rap battle. That was great. Phife’s goin’ in now. His verse was nice too. This is definitely one of the most aggressive tracks from A Tribe Called Quest lyrically. They’re just goin’ in about murdering wack ass rappers. What the fuck? Who the hell is that? Phife’s tradin’ bars with someone… He sounds kinda familiar? Is that Jarobi? Did Jarobi come back for this album and start rapping? I don’t think so… That doesn’t really sound like Jarobi. What the fuck… Okay, hold up… Lemme see who the fuck this is… Oh shit. Consequence? Why the fuck is he here? That seems like a really random feature… Oh… Oh snap. Okay. Apparently Consequence is Q-Tip’s cousin. I had no idea. Damn. Okay, that makes sense I guess. That’s cool. Why isn’t he credited as a feature tho? Oh God… Please don’t tell me all the features are uncredited. That’s so annoying to me. I mean, it’s really not that big of a deal. It’s just slightly inconvenient. It doesn’t matter tho. I like Consequence. Well, I mean… I’m not really that familiar with his work, but I don’t think he’s bad. His voice sounds good over this production style too. It’s… I don’t know. It’s kinda weird to have him trading bars with Phife on the intro. Why didn’t Q-Tip just rap with Phife? It’s not really a problem. It’s just kind of a strange decision in my opinion. I really enjoyed this track tho. The beat was great, and I loved the aggressive content. This is dope af to me. 5/5

Track 2: Get A Hold

Yeah. Yeah, I can already tell I’m gonna love all the production on this album. I guess I should’ve already know that since The Ummah produced most of this project. Q-Tip’s on the first verse. He did his thing. This hook is nice. This is a really smooth track. It feels a little more lowkey and dark than the majority of their previous work. The second verse was dope af. This is just a really chill track. Okay, this is a solo Q-Tip song. Gotdamn. He killed that last verse. Yeah. I fuck with this track. There’s not really anything I dislike about this song. It’s not amazing or anything, but I enjoyed it a lot. 4/5

Track 3: Motivators

Oh fuck. This beat is dope af. GotDAMN. Holy shit. The beats on this fucking album are amazing so far. I’m really enjoying the fuck outta this project. Phife’s on the first verse. He still sounds good to me. I mean, he’s not killin’ verses left and right like he was on Midnight Marauders, but it doesn’t really sound like he fell off or anything. Q-Tip’s verse was nice. Hmm… I don’t know about Consequence on this track… His voice just isn’t as smooth as Phife & Q-Tip’s voices. His verse wasn’t bad, but it was definitely my least favorite. The hook is nothing special. This beat is SO fucking good tho. Consequence is goin’ in again now. His verse was cool. It’s just his voice. His delivery just isn’t smooth enough. He doesn’t fit in. It’s not that big of a deal. It could’ve been better tho. Phife’s verse at the end was really fuckin’ dope. I fuck with this track. I’m in love with this beat, but the hook was nothing special & Consequence’s delivery was a little too loud. It’s still a really dope track tho. I fuck with this. 4/5

Track 4: The Jam

This beat is pretty dope. It’s not quite as dark as the previous few beats. I don’t even know if “dark” is the right word to use. It’s definitely one of the more upbeat tracks on this album tho. That long ass phone conversation at the beginning of this track was kind of annoying to me. I don’t even really know why. Tip did his thing on the first verse. Phife’s verse was cool. Q-Tip’s goin’ in again. Now Consequence is rapping again. Is he supposed to be Jarobi’s replacement or something? Even Jarobi never had this much of a presence. He sounds pretty good over this more upbeat production. This is definitely my least favorite song, but it wasn’t really bad… Hmm… Do I like this song? I kinda enjoyed it, but I don’t know if I’d ever have the desire to play this shit again. It’s one of those tracks that I’d listen to if it came on shuffle, but I’d never go out of my way to play it. I rarely even use shuffle tho, so I’m gonna go ahead and slam dunk this one in the recycle bin. It’s a decent track tho. 3/5

Track 5: Crew

Fuuuuuck. This beat is so fucking dope. J Dilla… Fuck, man. This production is so fucking smooth. Q-Tip’s goin’ in on the first verse. Damn. Oh shit. Okay, the song just ended. It was just one verse from Tip. I liked it tho. He told a story about how he caught his best friend kissing his wife. The song has a really simplistic structure, and it’s one of the shortest tracks on the album. There’s not really anything that I didn’t like about it tho. This is really fuckin’ good to me. It’s dope af. 5/5

Track 6: The Pressure

Y’all I’ve been working on this review for 26 fucking days. I just can’t bring myself to listen to it. I don’t even know why. It’s not even like this is a bad album. I’m really enjoying it so far. Maybe I’m just getting tired of A Tribe Called Quest. Maybe I should take a short break from this marathon after I finish this review. Okay, this track is starting now. These scratches on the intro really didn’t sound that good at first, but once the samples from older songs come in it’s really fucking awesome. This beat is dope af. Q-Tip killed the first verse. Phife’s verse was really nice too. It just ended. This song’s got a really simplistic structure, but I don’t actually have any legitimate gripes with it. I really enjoyed this song. It’s dope af to me. 5/5

Track 7: 1nce Again Feat. Tammy Lucas

1nce-again

Oh lord. This beat is dope af. Oooooooh fuuuuuuuck. This hook from Tammy Lucas is smooooooother than FUCK. Gotdamn. Okay, I definitely see why this was chosen as the lead single. Sonically, this is easily one of the best tracks on the album so far. The first verse from Phife wasn’t bad. Tip’s verse was great. He did his thing on the third verse too. Phife came back for the final verse. It was pretty good. The song just ended. Yeah. This is really dope. Honestly… I don’t know. I was really enjoying this song at first, but my initial excitement died down pretty quickly. I still think it’s a really good song, but it’s definitely not my favorite. I still fuck with this track tho. 5/5

Track 8: Mind Power

This beat is dope af. Jesus. The production on this fucking album is so good. The first verse from Q-Tip was great. His flow is just so smooth. Okay, Consequence is goin’ in now. He actually sounded pretty good too. His flow was nice. Gotdamn. Lmao. Phife’s verse was fantastic. That was dope af. There’s no hook. This song’s got a very straightforward structure. It’s just three dope verses and some scratching at the end. Well, actually I guess there is a hook, but it’s really short and they only do it once. Actually I guess they kinda did it again at the end. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. I don’t have any problems with this track. It’s dope af to me. 5/5

Track 9: The Hop (Prod. Rashad Smith)

Y’all… I started this review on the first day of the year. It’s almost fucking March. What the fuck happened? Why the hell is this taking me so long. I would’ve been done with this if I did one song a day. I guess that should be my rule. I should always try to review at least one song every day. That should help keep me on track. Anyway, this beat is pretty good. It has the same sample vocal sample that Kanye West flipped for Gold Digger. The beat is very different tho. The first verse from Tip was cool. The hook is nothing special. Phife’s verse was cool I guess. It definitely wasn’t bad. I just wasn’t really crazy about his flow. Hmm… I don’t know. I enjoyed this track. I just don’t know if it has any replay value for me. Nothing about this track is bad. It’s just not really doing much for me. I think this song is pretty good. I just don’t see myself coming back to this. It’s alright. 3/5

Track 10: Keeping It Moving

This beat is nice. The first verse from Q-Tip was dope. He’s basically saying he has no interest in being a part of the West Coast Vs. East Coast beef. If I was a rapper I probably would’ve been neutral too. I don’t give a fuck about the East Coast. I just live here. The hook is nothing special but it works. I think this is another solo track from Q-Tip. He’s goin’ in on the second verse right now. This is a dope song. I’m not blown away, but I enjoyed it. I fuck with this track. 4/5

Track 11: Baby Phife’s Return

I’m about half way through this song and I don’t really have anything to say about it. I’m pretty indifferent towards it. I haven’t really been paying attention. Maybe I should restart it… Okay, this beat isn’t really doing much for me. It’s not bad tho. The first verse was pretty good. The hook from Consequence isn’t bad. I don’t know. I’m just not feelin’ anything. The second verse was really good. I kinda enjoyed this, but I just don’t think I’d ever have the desire to come back to it. It’s definitely not bad tho. 3/5

Track 12: Separate / Together

It’s been almost 4 months since I started this review. I just can’t get through it. This is taking forever. I can’t really say that it’s the album’s fault tho. I’ve been going through a lot of shit. I’m having kind of a fucked up year lol. I’m gonna try and get this shit over with now tho. This beat is dope. Q-Tip’s flow on here is smooth af. “Brothers hold your heads high when you get down / Don’t violate these women ’cause we need them around / It’s all of us together, not the one without the other / The Abstract is ill, word to mother.” The first verse was great. The hook is nice. Oh shit. Okay. It ended. I really liked the outro. This is a really short solo track from Q-Tip. I don’t really have any complaints. I don’t mind the short length. This is dope to me. 4/5

Track 13: What Really Goes On

Alright, only three more tracks. Here we go. This one’s starting now. This hook kinda sucks. The beat’s really fuckin’ dope tho. Hmm… Why is this track censored? None of the other tracks are like that… Wait a minute… None of the other tracks were explicit. Huh. That’s kinda interesting. I guess. I kinda wish they didn’t censor this track, but it’s not that big of a deal. I don’t really care. The first verse was cool. This is another solo track from Q-Tip. This is just another dope song. It’s not blowing me away, but I enjoyed it. It’s far from my favorite. The best thing about this track is the production. It’s still good tho. 4/5

Track 14: Word Play

Oh shit. This beat. Fuck. This shit is SO fucking smooth. Oh shit. Phife. I feel like it’s been forever since I heard his voice. I guess it was only two songs ago, but still. They’re all trading four bar verses. Even Consequence’s bitch ass is goin’ in. Sorry. I don’t know why I just insulted Consequence. That was really unnecessary. I just listened to the entire song. It was dope. I really liked the production, and the way they were rapping was cool too. I just… I don’t know. It’s a good song. I still just don’t feel like it’s really blowing me away. It’s not on that next level that a lot of their other work is on. It’s dope tho. I fuck with this song. 4/5

Track 15: Stressed Out Feat. Faith Evans

Ooooooh… Fuck. This beat is dope af. Faith Evans is singin’ like a motherfucker on that hook too. Consequence & Q-Tip are tradin’ bars on the first verse. Good lord. They sound so fucking good over this beat. Seriously, this production is crazy. This is the kinda shit I need more of. Gotdamn. The first verse was great. Hmm… Consequence is on the second verse. Phife isn’t on this track?? Um… Why? It’s kinda weird that they’d end their album without him. I know he said he was really uninspired around this time, but still. He could’ve done something. I don’t know. Whatever. It’s still a fantastic song. I definitely fuck with this track. It’s dope af. 5/5

Final Thoughts:

I like this album. It’s great. I’m gonna be unfair tho. Compared to their previous albums, this kinda feels like it’s missing something. It’s definitely their wackest project so far. It’s still great tho. Actually, I can’t even say this is much worse than their first album. It’s got nothing on The Low End Theory & Midnight Marauders tho. It just felt different. I really liked the production, but the overall vibe was far less upbeat. I think that might be part of why it didn’t resonate with me as much. I love dark music, but that’s not really what I want from A Tribe Called Quest. Also, Consequence is cool, but it was just weird having him all over this album. He just felt kinda out of place. Also, I wish Phife had a greater presence. I get that he wasn’t really feelin’ it at the time tho. That’s unfortunate. It’s still worth listening to. It’s a really great album. There isn’t a single bad song here. It’s not like the other shit they’ve done, but it’s still a very great project. I fuck with this album. It’s dope.

Favorite Song: Stressed Out

Least Favorite Song: Baby Phife’s Return

Verdict:

83%

80-89

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One comment

  1. 1996 was a dark time, if you listen to a lot of Hip Hop album’s (and even a lot of non Hip Hop albums from that year as well that will take a long time to list.) A lot of the music just felt like a big ass cloud of darkness (perhaps due to the East-West drama, even though it was Vibe Magazine and The Source perpetuating the notion of Coastal rivalry even though originally it was just Death Row vs Bad Boy and a gang of motherfuckers jumped in with their own agendas.)

    Intial comment aside, this project is supposed to be intentionally grim (the cover alone is the band kinda sending an SOS to the Hip Hop community.) I dug everything about this joint 1nce Again stands out for me due to the fact it’s​ kinda one of the more lighter joints, but still keeps that grimy to it if that makes sense? It’s kinda the same deal with “Stressed Out” and “The Jam”. I personally dug this album more than the previous album’s and maybe that’s just me, it’s ambiance, it’s personal awareness about what was going on. And what I personally dug is that Tribe decided​ to go into the dark route, but still remained in the light. (Sorry if I’m getting too philosophical)

    Great Work Kid,

    Liked by 1 person

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