Hip-hop’s economic evolvement has made it nearly impossible for groups to remain self-contained, but the breakup of A Tribe Called Quest was especially disheartening. After culminating their decade long run of influence with, The Love Movement, Tribe loyalists immediately shifted gears, and turned their attention to frontman Q-Tip’s solo-debut Amplified; delegating the group’s oft-neglected Phife Dawg back into a role he has become very accustomed to—second fiddle.
While Tip was the group’s most visible entity, to simply label Phife as being the Ying, to Tip’s Yang is simply not fair. Despite being afforded little opportunity to bask in the Quest’s spotlight, Phife’s contribution to the group’s dynamic chemistry cannot be underestimated. Eager to step out of Tip’s shadow, Phife has many questions to answer with his solo-debut, Ventilation, none bigger then finally proving that he can hold down an LP strictly on the merits of his own lyrical skills. So, can Phife kick it solo, well—-yes he can.
Ventilation not only reveals Phife’s true musical ambitions, but the feelings he has repressed since the legendary group disassembled. Though the group’s split was deemed amicable, “Flawless” suggests shit isn’t sweet in Quest’s camp. Sending tremors through Tribe’s sacred foundation, Phife spares the rod on Ali, but questions his former partners new “jiggy” image on “Flawless”—”go ahead/play yourself with those hoe like hooks/sing ballads if its all about that Maxwell look”, further “FUBU suit with Steve Madden boots make we wanna puke/Phat Farm shorts with a garter belt looking like a hoar/or a purple bandanna cause it matches your shaw.” Though Phife’s frivolous lyrical banter becomes monotonous for stretches, a top-notch production squad (Hi-Tek, Pete Rock, Jay Dee, Fredwreck, and Supa Dav West) keeps Ventilation musically stimulating throughout. Jay Dee “Ben Dova” and Pete Rock “Melody Adonis” lace Phife with their signature sounds. But Phife spark up the most immediate chemistry with Hi-Tek, “D.R.U.G.S.” and “Alphabet Soup”, as Phife’s unassuming voice flourishes over Tek’s minimal grooves.
What Phife’s solo-debut lacks in execution, is compensated with intrigue. Other then a few aimless party-cuts, “The Club Hoppa”, Phife steers Ventilation on a fairly consistent course. One things for certain, after hearing Ventilation Q-Tip is surely wondering who let this Dawg out.
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