A TRIBE CALLED QUESTThe Anthology (Jive)

Despite its reputation for long-term amnesia, hip-hop is increasingly trying to revisit its past. The most banal example has been the recent rash of ”2000“-suffixed titles of recycled classics. Rockers are notorious for retreading old ground too, but at least they don’t name their works ”Satisfaction 2000.“

Less suspect, but just as uneven, has been the wave of ”best of“ retrospectives. Among the year‘s finest has been Gangstarr’s Full Clip (VirginNoo Trybe). With 10 years of material to cover, Gangstarr includes both its seminal works and obscure B-sidesremixes, making Full Clip as valuable to allegiant fans as to neophyte converts. But consider Keith Murray‘s recent The Most Beautifullest Hits (Jive). He’s had his share of smashes, notably 1994‘s ”The Most Beautifullest Thing,“ but with only three albums under his belt — none of them bona fide classics — how and why Keith Murray deserves a ”best of“ album at this stage of his mundane career evades easy logic. (Gee, could it be the money?)

Jive partially redeems itself with The Anthology for the recently disbanded A Tribe Called Quest. Like Gangstarr, Tribe has played a pivotal role in shaping the sound and sensibility of hip-hop in the ’90s by bridging the aesthetics of rap and jazz. In fact, the sheer minimalism of Ali Shaheed Muhammed‘s production on songs like ”Buggin’ Out,“ ”Luck of Lucien“ and ”Jazz (We Got)“ transformed hip-hop into jazz, with Q-Tip‘s signifyin’ abstracts and Phife‘s rhyme flurries substituting for the melodic presence of a horn line or piano chord.

The Anthology stretches across eight years and five albums of Tribe’s outstanding contributions, from funked-out power anthems (”Oh My God,“ ”Can I Kick It?“), to sublime love ‘n’ sex songs (”Bonita Applebum“), to rare, non-album tracks (”If the Papes Come,“ ”Hot Sex“). Only the inclusion of Q-Tip‘s recent club smash ”Vivrant Thing“ betrays a more cynical agenda for the album — sure, it’s a hot song, but it‘s also conceptually distant from what Tribe stood for during their career. Ironically, as the last song of the album, ”Vivrant Thing“ seems to formally mark the end of the Tribe era that The Anthology tries to capture. Even while we celebrate their past, we’re left with the ominous evidence that the Quest is indeed over.

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