The other day my dude Sayid got at me after watching the Writer's Bench ep we did on Tribe and asked me why I didn't think "Beats, Rhymes & Life" was a dope album. And to be honest, I have SO many different thoughts and philosophies on why this album was such a letdown that I told him I'd have to write a piece on it vs. trying to explain it through 140 characters on twitter. So here's the breakdown on why "BR&L" was wack so that it can forever and consistently be broke. First up, I don't think folk realize how much stuff changed for Tribe after Midnight Marauders dropped and went platinum. If you look at the time span between the 2 albums, Midnight dropped in November '93 and "BR&L" dropped in July '96 so we're looking at almost a 3 year span between the 2 albums. And in that time, A LOT changed.
#1, Q Tip began producing for outside artist under his name. I say that because, prior to "Midnight" everything was produced under "A Tribe Called Quest" banner. Plus before "Midnight" there were only a couple of tracks that Tip produced for outside groups. Namely Apache's "Gangster Bitch" & The Fu Schnicken's "True Fushnick" & "La Schmoove." Why is that important? Because in a nutshell in the past Tribe got all of Tip's best beats, and once Tip stopped producing under the Tribe banner could have really been the start of the ending for A Tribe Called Quest. Why? Well, Tip told us in the "BR&L" doc that he produced under the Tribe banner because no one man was above the crew. So now that he's producing under his name...did things change? Well, neither here nor there, but when you go from keeping all of your beats in house for your group but then you start giving out bangers to Nas, Mobb Deep, Craig Mack, the Crooklyn Dodgers, etc. that could cause a slight problem for your next album cause you're giving away all of your hot shit! I read an interview with Phontay from Litte Brother saying there was a beef with 9th cause after HE blew (don't get it twisted & think that Little Brother blew...nah, jus 9th) after doing that "Threat" beat on Jay's "Black Album" (I'm gonna have to write a whole nother piece for that BS alone) he started doing all of this outside production and cats felt like he was giving away the "Little Brother sound." One of my biggest beefs with "BR&L" was the beats. But before we go there, riddle me this. Could you imagine a hungry Tip and a hungry Phife over that Crooklyn Dodger beat? Or what about Mobb's "Give Up the Goods" or "Drink Away the Pain?" Yeah, just think if THOSE beats were on "BR&L" for a sec.
Next up is Phife moving to Atlanta. Somebody may say "why can't dude move? We were moving into the pro tools era of not having to be in the same studio. Plus Phife can fly up to NYC anytime there's a session." Well, the problem is if the first 3 albums were all done in NYC and dudes were linking up, hanging out, being in all of the studio sessions together (even if Tip did have to drag Phife) etc. there's a certain vibe that's gonna be there when it's time to work on music. And that same vibe (that made damn near 3 classic albums...I've never been sold on "People's...") mos def isn't gonna be same in this new long distance relationship. Let me put on my marriage coaching hat (yeah, I'm a relationship/marriage coach on the side) think about it like this, everybody isn't built for a long distant relationship. Especially if the relationship started out in the same city and then eventually becomes long distance. In fact, most of those long distant relationships will either lead to two things happening, breaking up or both folk cheating on each other. And maybe that's what got Tip into doing more outside production under his name on some ole my dude left so I'm gonna do me. The same way in a relationship if someone moves away the person being left behind may feel like the person leaving is in fact leaving the relationship or is picking whatever they're moving for over the relationship. Even if they say they still want the relationship, the person being left behind may not feel that way. Make sense? And not for nuthin' but I'm sure Ali was like, well if Tip is doing beats and Phife's in ATL I might as well start doing me and he became a A&R up at Quest Records (Quincy's label) so now everybody is going in three totally separate directions all while trying to record a new album. And what's one of the most important things in making a relationship work? Everybody being on one accord. And trust me, when Tribe was making "BR&L" the very last thing they were on, was one accord.
Next up, who the hell is Consequence and why is he on this album? Now, of course I know who Cons is now but that's what I was thinking when I first hear "BR&L." But the problem is, to this day I still don't know why he was on this album. I mean, I know he's Tip's cousin but damn, did he really have to damn near be the new member of Tribe? And it's not like Cons was on some ole Kid Hood type steez and was nice as hell or the next "one." Dude was aiight at best. And "aiight" shouldn't be enough to get you into one of the dopest groups ever. And then on "Stressed Out" it's Cons and Tip going back and forth, not Tip and Phife. In fact Phife isn't even on the song! How the hell is Phife (not that I'm a big Phife dude but he is part of the group right?) not on the albums 2nd single but Consequence is? So bet money that Phife felt a some kinda way about that. It almost felt like Tip was trying to replace Phife with Cons on some ole "oh, you bounced to ATL? Cool. I got my 'lil cousin and we won't miss a beat." Also, keep in mind that during this time, Tip had become a muslim and changed his name to Kamal Fareed so he's going through his own personal growth too. So again, there's way too many moving parts going on while these cats are trying to make a follow up album to one of the dopest hip hop albums EVER.
Then you also gotta keep in mind that between "Midnight" and "BR&L" Tip started the Ummah production team with Ali and Dilla and that right there to me changed the whole sound of "BR&L" from the Tribe sound we were used to. Now this is where some folk try to blame the wackness of "BR&L" on Dilla but let me tell you this, there's absolutely no way that Dilla ruined this album. In fact if Dilla wasn't around during the recording of that album, "BR&L" would've been even worse...trust me. First up Dilla, produced 3 of the dopest songs on the album with "Get A Hold" and "Wordplay" and "Keep It Moving" so there's no way he was the reason this album fell short of what we all though it was gonna be. Now, don't get it twisted, Dilla did produce 2 of the wackest songs on this album with "1nce Again" and "Stressed Out" so he ain't free from taking some of the heat too but to put it all on Dilla? Nah...no haps on that one. And since we're talking about beats, a lot of folk think my beef with "BR&L" was about the beats and it wasn't. It's about the songs. What's the difference? Well, the beat is just that, the beat. And the rhyme is just that, the rhyme. The song is where the two come together and the songs on "BR&L" is what was REALLY made this album wack.
First off, I'm a true believer that the song that sets off your album is damn near the most important song on the album. It's like the first scene in a movie. The first time you see a shorty who catches your eye. Especially for an album that's a follow up to your dopest and biggest selling album. And these dudes set it off with "Phoney Rappers?" Word? Take a sec and listen to that song. The beat is wack and literally may be the wackest way I've heard somebody try to use the "Blind Alley" break and the lyrics? Have ya'll listened to the lyrics? Peep game, "yo I was riding the train and this puerto Rican kid said simple and plain/let's battle, it kinda took me by surprised/cuz the brother was movin with his eyes on the prize/I said screw it, I ain't got nuthin to lose but um/but I got to do this shit real quick so um." Stop right there. Did this nigga just rhyme "um" with "um?" REALLY? One of the nicest MC's EVER just rhymed "um" with "um." And it ain't like Phife came with it either, "talking about I need a phillie right before I get loose/poor excuse, money please I get loose off of orange juice/preferably minute maid." Now I know Phife has never been a lyrical assassin but come on ya'll "I get loose off of orange juice?" REALLY? And then Cons just comes in does something I didn't even think was possible, which is ruin the song even more. This nigga Cons says "so on your mark, get ready, MC's be jetty/me and Phife be hanging like Veronica and Betty/Archie, Jughead..." did this nigga just name Betty, Veronica, Archie and Jughead? And them him and Phife end the song with "and when it comes to the microphone, don't even try to grab it" and then yell "what" off beat together? Yeah "what" is right. As in what in the hell is going on? And again, this is the song that these dudes picked to sets the album off?
You know who does a DOPE job of setting off albums? EPMD. "So What Cha Sayin" sets off "Unfinished Business" their follow up to their debut "Strictly Business." So when you first through the tape in your box and the very first thing you heard was "So What You Sayin" you knew that these dudes were about to bring it! "I'm Mad" (which was BONKERS) set off "Business As Usual" and "Straight From the Boondox" set off "Business Never Personal." See, those dudes understood the importance of how you set an album off. If "Phoney Rappers" was made during the Low End or "Midnight" recording sessions that jawn wouldn't have made the album period and there's no way it would have set the album off. But what I do love about "Phoney Rappers" is it gives you a pretty dope preview of what's to come.
And what was to come was more wackness. I mean do ya'll even wanna talk about how wack their first single "1nce Again" was? I mean, that was a HORRIBLE knock off of "Check the Rhyme." And when cats start trying to make new songs from their old songs...yeah, like OC said, time's up. In fact, the ONLY thing dope about "1nce Again" was when the Beatnuts used Tip's "the ladies sweat the style, the brothers sweat the nuts" line for their banger "Here's A Drink." Yeah, that's how bad "1nce Again" was. And PLEASE don't make me go into that travesty called "Baby Phife's Return." Bet money, half of ya'll reading this didn't even know Tribe had a song called something that wack. And trust, the beats and the rhymes (no pun intended) weren't any better. This was a LOOOOOOOONG fall for Phife from his best solo effort "Butter."
Now don't get it twisted, I said the album wack but that doesn't mean it was straight trash. There were some songs on "BR&L" that were dope. I already named 3 with "Get A Hold", Word Play" and "Keep It Moving" and I mos def rock with Tip's solo track "Crew" and to me there's no doubt that the best song on the album is "Jam." But that's only 5 songs I mess with outta 14. So do the math cause 5 outta 14 songs in nobody' scheme of things is gonna leave cats happy with your album. So there you have it, the breakdown on why Tribe's "Beat, Rhymes & Life" was the fiasco that it was. And yeah, for the record Tribe's "Love Movement" was better then "BR&L." Now, don't get it twisted, it wasn't better by leaps and bounds cause there were some bricks on there too but if I had to pick between those 2 albums to drive down to ATL and back and I could only take 1 of 'em, I'd mos def pick "Love" over "BR&L."