On this day, July 30, in hip-hop history…
1996: After three certified, unimpeachable classics in a row to start their career, there was always going to be a certain amount of unrealistic expectations for A Tribe Called Quest to maintain the same level of quality. After all, staying on top of your game forever is nigh impossible no matter who the artist is. Even Kanye’s fourth album, 808s & Heartbreak, remains polarizing to a large segment of his fans to this day. Therefore, it is natural that many fans found Tribe’s fourth effort, Beats, Rhymes And Life, to be a relative disappointment at the time. The darker tone in topic and shift in sound was seen as unwelcome to fans who consider the formula of joyful, infectious positivism in the original classic trilogy of albums to be hip-hop perfection not to be fooled around with.
Seventeen years later, time has been far kinder to Beats, Rhymes And Life, and its reputation has grown in stature as the decades start to pass us by. The album was the first of two records produced by the production collective of The Ummah, a clique consisting of Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and the late, great J Dilla. Criticized initially for departing from the denser, low end heavy production of their earlier work, the album’s beats are more laid-back, polished and spacier due to Jay Dee’s influence in joining Tribe’s production team. Dilla’s premature passing almost a decade later would cause fans to reevaluate his work and it can now be seen that Beats, Rhymes And Life, was a seminal influence on a generation of producers inspired by the man.
On the album, we find the group tackling a variety of topics including the on-going East Coast/West Coast beef that was enveloping the scene at the time and would eventually end in violent tragedy after the deaths of Tupac and Biggie. On “Keep It Moving,” we find Q-Tip addressing Westside Connection’s Tribe diss “Cross ‘Em Out and Put A K On It” by responding with a message of peace and understanding. A message that would seem especially salient in the wake of imminent tragedy. Beats, Rhymes And Life, can be seen as album that was under-appreciated at the time but has taken its rightful place amongst the best of Tribe’s canon.