Record Label: Madlib Invazion
Two of Hip Hop's most cherished icons, Talib Kweli and 9th Wonder have come together to create what undoubtedly will go down as an instantly classic album. INDIE 500 features an All Star supporting cast, including Problem, Slug (of Atmosphere), Rapsody, Pharaoh Monch, Brother Ali, Hi-Tek, NIKO IS and more. After exploding on to the scene as one half of the legendary Black Star alongside Mos Def in 1998, Talib Kweli quickly followed up in 2000 with the album Train of Thought, his collaborative effort with producer Hi-Tek. As fans,critics and his peers unanimously agreed, Kweli was cemented as one of hip hop's top lyricists and continued to release one acclaimed album after another - garnering direct praise from Jay-Z on his song ""Moment of Clarity"" from Jay-Z's classic The Black Album. Meanwhile as the early 2000's progressed, a new trio was bursting on the scene from North Carolina known as Little Brother. Behind the boards of this trio was producer 9th Wonder, who very quickly established himself as one of hip hop's best producers. As their 2003 album The Listening reached a fever pitch, 9th Wonder's buzz became so hot he claimed a highly coveted production spot as well on Jay-Z's The Black Album. Through the years both Talib Kweli and 9th Wonder have gone on to work with a staggering list of hip hop royalty. However both of their respective works outside of the recording booth have become prominent pieces of their stories as well. 9th Wonder has established himself as Hip Hop's top educator, working as a professor at Harvard, Duke and North Carolina Central University, while Talib Kweli has become one of Hip Hop's most vocal and respected voices, who appears regularly on news outlets such as CNN and programs like HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher. A collaboration between Kweli and 9th almost seemed to make perfect sense, but INDIE 500 represents even more to the artists. "I've always been a fan of collectives, like Native Tongues and the Dungeon Family," explains Kweli. "INDIE 500 is a tribute to the spirit of unity exemplified by some of great hip hop artists that influenced us." Collectives are nothing new to the two, who have both successfully run their own labels in Blacksmith, Javotti (Kweli) and Jamla (9th Wonder), helping to break a number of popular artists over the years.
With their fourth album Beats, Rhymes and Life, A Tribe Called Quest manages to be one of the few hip-hop acts to successfully age by pushing both their music and their lyrics into new directions. Stylistically, the record is closest to its immediate predecessor, Midnight Marauders, in the sense that the group's jazz-rap fusion are downplayed and the beat stays surprisingly hard throughout the album. What distinguishes Beats, Rhymes and Life from Marauders is a deeper sense not only of eclectism, but of spirituality and maturity. Shortly before the album was written and recorded, Q-Tip converted to Islam and the religion's ideals are an undercurrent in nearly every track on the album. But what really stands out is Tip's unease with the transience of the youth-oriented hip-hop scene and his own urges to settle down. Unlike most rappers, he confronts these feelings in the music, by writing lyrics and helping to create music that illustrates the contradictions of growing old with hip-hop. And by tackling the issue head-on, A Tribe Called Quest sound fresh and suggest that it is possible to sustain a career in rap as you approach a full decade of recording, after all.
One year after De la Soul re-drew the map for alternative rap, fellow Native Tongues brothers A Tribe Called Quest released their debut, the quiet beginning of a revolution in non-commercial hip-hop. People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm floated a few familiar hooks, but it wasn't a sampladelic record. Rappers Q-Tip and Phife Dawg dropped a few clunky rhymes, but their lyrics were packed with ideas, while their flow and interplay were among the most original in hip-hop. From the beginning, Tribe focused on intelligent message tracks but rarely sounded over-serious about them. With "Pubic Enemy," they put a humorous spin on the touchy subject of venereal disease (including a special award for the most inventive use of the classic "scratchin'" sample), and moved right into a love rap, "Bonita Applebum," which alternated a sitar sample with the type of jazzy keys often heard on later Tribe tracks. " of a Fool" took to task those with violent tendencies, while "Youthful Expression" spoke wisely of the power yet growing responsibility of teenagers. Next to important message tracks with great productions, A Tribe Called Quest could also be deliciously playful (or frustratingly unserious, depending on your opinion). "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo" describes a vacation gone hilariously wrong, while "Ham 'n' Eggs" may be the oddest topic for a rap track ever heard up to that point ("I don't eat no ham and eggs, cuz they're high in cholesterol"). Contrary to the message in the track titles, the opener "Push It Along" and "Rhythm (Dedicated to the Art of Moving Butts)" were fusions of atmospheric samples with tough beats, special attention being paid to a pair of later Tribe sample favorites, jazz guitar and '70s fusion synth. Restless and ceaselessly imaginative, Tribe perhaps experimented too much on their debut, but they succeeded at much of it, certainly enough to show much promise as a new decade dawned.