Quirky Queens Kids Share An Alternative Perspective
2:00PM ET August 14th, 2011
Contributor : Hip Hop Blog Staff
A Rocky Williform Company
Every week, HHB will spotlight a legendary hip hop artist and examine their legacy and body of work. Hip hop is 30+ years old, and HHB wants to make sure that everyone understands how rich and varied this musical genre is. From Grandmaster Flash to 50 Cent, there are an endless array of MCs, DJs and producers who have made this music what it is today. Let's clap for 'em...
The group most responsible for the commercial viability and ongoing influence and visibility of what some dub 'alternative hip hop,' A Tribe Called Quest is one of the most innovative, influential and beloved hip hop acts of all time. Four friends from Queens blessed with an almost-innocent love for rhyming, a quirky sensibility and one certified hip hop genius in the middle of it all. Tribe took the baton from alt-rap's first generation; fellow Native Tonguers the Jungle Brothers and De La Soul, along with the under-appreciated Ultramagnetic MCs; and carried it forward throughout the 1990s, ultimately providing a template for legions of followers, including Common, The Roots, Pharcyde and others.
The seeds for A Tribe Called Quest were planted when a young Jonathan Davis was encouraged to rhyme by his friend Malik Taylor. Davis, dubbing himself 'Q-Tip,' eventually attended the same performing arts high school and met aspiring DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammed. The two bonded over a love of music and Davis soon brought Taylor (now calling himself 'Phife Dawg') and Taylor's friend Jarobi White into the group. Also attending the same high school as Ali and Q-Tip were Michael "Mike Gee" Small and Nathaniel "Baby Bam" Hall of the Jungle Brothers. The Jungle Brothers were recording their seminal 1988 debut album Straight Out the Jungle and included Q-Tip on two tracks. The Jungle Brothers dubbed the foursome of Q-Tip, Phife, Ali Shaheed and Jarobi "A Tribe Called Quest."
Following the release of De La Soul's acclaimed debut 3 Feet High and Rising, (which also featured Q-Tip), the Native Tongues collective was recognized as a new, left-of-center perspective in hip hop culture. Their sound was quirky and playful while also maintaining Afrocentric and bohemian aesthetics; and their emphasis on positivity, humor and offbeat sensibility set them apart from both the incendiary political rap and the nihilistic gangsta rap of the late 80s/early 90s.
This all set the stage for ATCQ's debut album, People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm which was released in 1990. The group's sound built on the template established by the previous Native Tongues, with Q-Tip's rhymes dominating the record. The popularity of hit singles "Can I Kick It?" and "Bonita Applebaum" established the group outside the shadow of the Jungle Brothers and De La Soul; and Q-Tip's crossover visibility was raised after an appearance on the smash single "Groove Is In the Heart" by pop group Deee-Lite. People's Instinctive Travels... garnered significant critical praise from critics and eventually reached gold status. Despite the young group's success, Jarobi decided to depart for a career in the culinary arts.
The group soon returned to the studio to record its follow-up, released in late 1991, The Low End Theory was a stark departure from the playful quirkiness of its predecessor. The lo-fi, jazz-influenced production was unlike anything in hip hop at the time; minimalist-but-soulful with Q-Tip and a rejuvenated Phife Dawg delivering witty word riddles over a backdrop that perfectly complements their rhymes. The album was immediately hailed as a landmark, landing on several 'Best of' polls at the end of year and achieving platinum sales on the strengths of singles like "Check the Rhime" and "Scenario." Tribe abandoned a large part of their previous image, adopting a slightly-more street aesthetic while maintaining their freewheeling and positive persona as a group.
Tribe's hot streak continued with an appearance on the alternative rock-dominated Lollapalooza tour and another hit single, "Hot Sex," from the Eddie Murphy film Boomerang. Q-Tip also appeared in the John Singleton film Poetic Justice.
In 1993, ATCQ released the third in their string of classic albums, Midnight Marauders. Featuring some of the group's most well-crafted and accessible work, and production assistance such talents as Large Professor and J. Dilla, the album was yet another critically-acclaimed work from the group was now lauded as the most creative and ambitious act in hip hop. "Award Tour" became Tribe's biggest hit to date, with songs like "Electric Relaxation" and "Oh My God!" continuing the group's string of strong singles.
After touring in support of Midnight Marauders, the group worked on individual interests and projects. Q-Tip produced for artists like Nas and Mobb Deep. He also converted to Islam, changing his name to Kamaal Ibn John Fareed. Ali Shaheed Muhammed worked on, Brown Sugar, the debut album for soul singer/songwriter D'Angelo, and Phife Dawg left his native Queens, NY and moved to Atlanta and made an appearance on TLC's Crazy Sexy Cool.
When the group reconvened for their fourth album, 1996's Beats, Rhymes & Life, cracks had begun to appear in the group's collective armor. Phife's relocation to Atlanta led to scheduling conflicts in recording and Q-Tip's religious conversion unexpectedly drove a wedge between he and his rhyme partner's previously-effortless musical chemistry. Further altering the group's dynamic was the creation of the Ummah--a production team that consisted of Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed and the aforementioned J. Dilla. Also, Q-Tip's cousin Consequence made several appearances on Beats, Rhymes & Life, leading many fans to question whether or not he had become an official member of the group. Beats... wound up receiving the most mixed reviews in the group's history together, with many critics noting the entire project's dark and slightly cynical feel. This was a noticeable departure from the optimism of Tribe's earlier work. The album still went platinum and the single "1nce Again" was nominated for a Grammy.
Q-Tip made another high-profile guest appearance on Janet Jackson's hit "Got Til It's Gone" before A Tribe Called Quest released what it had decided would be its final album together. 1998s The Love Movement, released while the group was fraying due to personal differences and frustrations with its label, was a return to the warmer feel of its earlier work but with the production style of the Ummah and the matured perspective of Phife and Q-Tip. The album was praised by critics but the group split almost immediately after its release. "Find A Way," the only official single released from the album, became a significant hit and served as the group's swan song.
In the years since they split, Q-Tip became a crossover star, hip hop recluse and is now a resurgent elder statesman for hip hop's quirkier side. Ali Shaheed Muhammad has found success as a producer for several soul artists and as one-third of the supergroup Lucy Pearl and Phife Dawg released a solo album and the demand for the entire group (including Jarobi) on the stage has only grown over time. Tribe's legacy is recognized in every hip hop artist that has showcased the culture's more cerebral side, the laid-back, intelligent and relatable artists that aren't afraid to embrace their eclecticism. Today, they still stand as one of the most beloved hip hop acts of their generation.
People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990)
"Can I Kick It?," "I Left My Wallet In El Segundo," "Bonita Applebaum"
The Low End Theory (1991)
"Check the Rhime," "Jazz (We've Got)," "Scenario"
Midnight Marauders (1993)
"Award Tour," "Electric Relaxation," "Oh My God"
Watch the Throne
07:00AM ET August 9th, 2011
Contributor: Todd Williams
A Rocky Williform Company
Since it was announced that Kanye West and Jay-Z would be releasing an album together, it seems like every other major 2011 release has been an afterthought. Tracks hit the web, every single facet of the album-making process was plastered across hip hop websites and blogs, tours were announced, release dates pushed back and pushed up--and it all leads up to Watch the Throne, an album that's more or less a gaudy, ambitious vanity project.
It's not formulaic--both artists are clearly trying to hit the ball out of the park--but this is still an ego-driven exercise more than a fully-realized, cohesive, inspired album. And coming on the heels of West's 2010 opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, its hard to not feel like parts of Watch the Throne are throwaways from Kanye's previous masterpiece.
But when they are inspired, the chemistry that the duo birthed on 2001s classic Jay-Z album The Blueprint is still as palatable as it ever was. "Welcome To the Jungle," which ironically is produced by Swizz Beatz, is the best song on the album; with both rappers in top form over a skittering, stone-cold backdrop. And while "That's My Bitch" may turn off some listeners with its latent misogyny, it features some of the most clever production on the album (with an assist from Q-Tip.) And "Who Gon Stop Me" provides the requisite bottle-popping, baller anthem that you just knew was going to be the centerpiece of the album.
Where the album loses punch is when the rappers--specifically Kanye--decides to remind everyone how hard it is being them. "New Day" is one of the album's more interesting cuts, in which Jay and Kanye offer words of wisdom to their unborn children. But, of course, Kanye can't resist climbing up on his cross in his opening verse, not-so-subtly referencing the backlash(es) he's endured over the course of his career for various PR nightmares. "Gotta Have It" is another of the album's stand-up tracks--despite Kanye overindulging his persecution fetish again. "White America assassinate my character/Money matrimony/Yeah they trying to break the marriage up" he raps before Jay-Z joins in, name-dropping Lebron James and Dwyane Wade's backlash as evidence that the world "hates players these days." It's hard to tell if the Jay and Yeezy are looking for sympathy, but its hard to feel sorry for anybody that brags about "planking on a million."
Hov and Yeezy get topical--most notably on "Murder To Excellence." The song wants desperately to be an anthem for Black unity--and it almost hits the mark, but it feels a bit forced on an album that seems so content to wear its narcissism on its sleeve.
Jay-Z's greatest strength has been his ability to tap into the upwardly mobile sensibility of Generations X & Y; and Kanye's greatest strength has been his ability to take that ambition and inject pathos and conflict into the mix. In a way, these two differing personalities should be more complimentary than they actually are. Somehow you don't get the push-and-pull you'd expect--on Watch the Throne, they're both cocky as hell and conflicted as hell in equal measure. Which can make for a frustratingly monotonous listen.
Watch the Throne feels like one bombastic brag-fest after another. So while this much-hyped project will undoubtedly make the perfect soundtrack to a thousand Saturday nights--there isn't a whole lot of substance on the record. It winds up sounding a lot closer to Blueprint 3 than My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy--and that can't help but be a little disappointing.
Here I Am
09:00AM ET August 5th, 2011
Contributor: DeAndre Rozan
A Rocky Williform Company
It may seem like an overstatement to call Here I Am, the third album by R&B star Kelly Rowland, a 'comeback' album--but its pretty close to an accurate description given the pop music landscape in 2011. Rowland hadn't had a smash hit since her first Nelly-assisted single "Dilemma" from her debut solo album Simply Deep, which was released way back in 2002. Her sophomore album, Ms. Kelly, was a flop and lead to her being dropped from her label and subsequently firing her manager, Matthew Knowles. She experienced a resurgence overseas, charting some dance hits in 2010 that did little to restore her commercial viability in the U.S. So it was easy to assume that, at this point, Kelly Rowland's career was about as hot as Kelly Price's.
But that was before "Motivation" hit the airwaves and instantly returned the former Destiny's Child star to prominence. And that much-needed hit was just the career shot-in-the-arm that Rowland needed--setting the stage for Here I Am. Rowland has never had the sheer star power that her former bandmate Beyonce seems to exude, but she's an industry veteran that knows her way around the studio. Here I Am is an assured album that shines more than it sags and features some of Rowland's most inspired work as of yet.
Rowland balances her newfound desire to be 'the modern Donna Summer' and her tried-and-true urban pop-meets-light-hip hop approach on the album, with “Down for Whatever,” surpassing her previous dance hit "Commander" (also included here) as Rowland's most defiantly Eurodance moment on the record. Produced by RedOne and Jimmy Joker, "...Whatever" reveals that Rowland's excursion into hardcore dance music wasn't just a brief interlude--she actually sounds as assured and confident in that genre as she does doing anything else.
"Lay It On Me" is Rowland in full sex-kitten mode--because of course, any female pop singer that wants to be taken seriously has to get a little risque--and benefits from a Big Sean guest verse.
Here I Am, for all of its eclecticism, isn't a groundbreaking record, in the least. The album benefits from knowing what works best for Rowland. Coming after the sometimes ham-fisted sincerity of Simply Deep and the pseudo-autobiographical Ms. Kelly, this is precisely the album Kelly Rowland needed to make at this point in her career.
So while it may not be earth-shattering, Here I Am is a thoroughly enjoyable album that shows an artist that's been through the ups and downs of the music industry that has also come out of those trials much more confident and complete. And for Kelly Rowland, that is a definite triumph.
Sexy Girl-Next-Door Is Determined To Rewrite Rap's Rule Book
8:00AM ET July 31st, 2011
Contributor : Malcolm Strong
A Rocky Williform Company
Khrys Deyon knows what you’re looking at. She’s been getting stared at for years. Khrys Deyon knows what you’re thinking about. She’s been getting lusted after for years. And Khrys Deyon knows what you think of her.
She’s been getting underestimated for years.
Her mixtape “Forever 21” showcases a brash-but-vulnerable young woman eager to speak her mind and share her perspective. Nonetheless, the sexy artist-formerly-known-as-Khrysti Hill knows exactly what kind of skepticism comes with being a beautiful woman holding a microphone.
But if Khrys Deyon let other people define her—well, she wouldn’t be Khrys Deyon.
What’s the biggest misconception the general public has about you?
Everybody thinks they know about me from ‘Khrysti Hill.’ You Google the name and you see all this sh*t. [laughs] I surprise myself sometimes—the pictures I see. It’s a whole other person. And no one understands that. They assume I’m just this freak that gets nasty and does whatever, but it’s a whole story to it. That was just a hustle. I’m more ‘Khrys Deyon’ than ‘Khrysti Hill.’
What’s the difference?
Khrysti Hill is the fantasy. She has the fat ass with the matching t***ies and talks sh*t and doesn’t care what people think about her. Does whatever, will do whatever [and will] say anything. She’s fearless. You can see it in the pictures. It’s a part of me, it comes out here and there.
But this music sh*t is some whole other sh*t. Its really me telling my story and how I want to do it. Khrys Deyon is the laid-back girl who wears her hair in ponytails and has on Jordans and is nonchalant and chilling. Might hit the blunt. [Laughs] She’s cool with everybody. She’s the girl in high school that played sports. The girl that was smart but never really had to make a scene. Everybody knew her as ‘The Cool Chick.’ The popular girl.
What’s been the harshest reality to face, industry-wise?
I just left a producer a couple of days ago who told me how dope I was, but [then added] ‘Let us just write for you.’ If I’m gonna do this sh*t, I gotta write my own sh*t. How else am I gonna do it? Who else to better tell the story but me? If its wack, at least I can say ‘I did it.’
What keeps you motivated to tell your story?
I think now people can follow me [as I take] the next step. I want them to see it. Underneath all of that makeup and hair and that dress and them red bottoms—that bitch is lonely. She cries in the shower. She’s getting tired of these n***as. She thinks she’s so important and the baddest bitch but when she goes home, its just her. She doesn’t have any real friends. Every guy just wanna f*ck. Khrys Deyon is the more laid back down to earth person that you can be best friends with, confide in…fall in love with.
What brought you to Atlanta?
I was in a relationship and I ran away. It was when ‘Khrysti Hill’ was doing really well. I was traveling and doing parties. But my personal life was crazy. My relationship was unraveling. My family hated me. I was lost in a lot of ways. I had no real direction—except ‘get money.’ My first experience moving to Atlanta, I was by myself in an apartment in Buckhead with no furniture. I looked the part, but I would go home and literally be in a corner twiddling my thumbs. When I ran away, I just needed a new start. I was going through a lot mentally. Those first couple of years in Atlanta were really hard.
Who do you think your mixtape, “Forever 21,” really speaks for?
I feel like, for all of those girls that think they’re ‘Barbies’ and the baddest bitch in the world—which they might be—there’s still a girl that’s hurting and that’s going thru sh*t. I was one of those girls. That was having the time of my life but was lonely and depressed. You Google me and you see my ass out—which my Mom doesn’t really understand--but it’ll all make sense. I just wanna be that voice.
I feel like I’m being led right now. Nobody gets it, nobody understands it, but you’re gonna see the difference. And you’re gonna like it. “I’m redoing the life that was Khrys Hill.”
Follow Khrys Deyon at Twitter.com/khrystihill
What If Lil Kim and Foxy Brown Formed A Duo?
7:00AM ET July 22nd, 2011
Contributor : Jecquea Howsie
A Rocky Williform Company
Lil Kim and Foxy Brown are trying to hold onto their credibility and star power, despite the fact that neither one has had a hit record in years. But instead of battling Nicki Minaj or Tom Joyner single-handedly, maybe the former chart-toppers should team up. Consider a few reasons why they should join forces.
We all know the well is dry, and the music industry is taking a beating. Obviously hooking up would enable both of you to perform in front of twice as many people as either of you would attract solo. Gay clubs, straight clubs, jazz clubs-- hell bat mitzvahs, at the end of the day all money is green and it doesn’t matter where it comes from.
Also, retro is in. They're even relaunching Spiderman. So grab DJ Khaled and a million-and-one of his closest friends to hop on a track. Make a pointless video with an actor cameo, then hop on the Twitter beef bandwagon and start a rant.
We all know how much both of you love to strip down, so when your thirsty album cover hits the shelves, you’ll be able to provide endless spread eagles for your ten blood sucking Stans.
Together you might have a chance against Nicki Minaj. It’s a new millennium, so stealing her title won’t be easy.
Actually, it will probably be impossible.
It’s sad to say, but you’ll probably have to do a sex tape, sign with Young Money, do a feature with Nicki, and go back in time to 1997 before anyone will take you seriously.
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