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     Who even knew Ali Shaheed Muhammad could rap? Like Pete Rock, he’s holding his own, slicing and dicing his timely rhymes superbly as his own beat productions soar. As he drops his first solo LP, making him the last member of Tribe Called Quest, A to do so, heads will just have to consider this long overdue. In fact, if you were even familiar with his Lucy Pearl stint together with Raphael Saadiq and Dawn Robinson, he’d still be considered the only cat instrumental to both groups to debut his solo album. And it’s a heavy one, where Ali provides proof that beats, rhymes or singing aren’t needed from either Phife Dawg or Q-Tip, as well as from ex-Lucy Pearl members.

     In fact, re-establishing yesteryear’s stars under his Garden Seeker Productions, Ali’s charged up on the first track, “Lord Can I Have This Mercy (ft. Chip),” pouncing on the mic with a fury, while he’s joined by the dexterity and speedy ragamuffin rhyme flow of Chip-Fu (of Fu-Schnickens), also hitting you with a chorus-hook smelling of curry and oozing waves of pleasure. Rapper Kay (of The Foundation) on “Tight (ft. Kay)” runs his lip so perfectly fitting over Ali’s crazy scratching throughout, that those jazzy vibrations from Tribe’s past work become almost an instant comparison and memory while bobbing to it. No longer in the background like in past groups, Ali on the album’s first release, “Elevated Orange,” grabs for meaning when the mic is given to him. It almost feels like he’s been held back, or probably holding back himself too long, possibly for the sake of the group’s interest. One of his most autobiographical raps enters on “Industry/Life,” where he makes no mistake about the type of category listeners are going to fill him into after these lines: “You want it hardcore, straight in your veins with no chase/You too slow boy, pick up your pace!” Or quickly raps other lines to show his freestyle nature in keeping with his hip-hop authenticity theme: “My position is precision/like a gifted premonition, I fade in to what you missin’!”

     Outside of the hip-hop stuff, Allah’s blessings didn’t just take a diversion. Instead, Ali’s cup runneth over as the rest of his productions arm sultry R&B singers such as Stokley Williams (of Mint Condition) on “Put Me on,” where he spots man’s ‘original temptation’ in the club, despite his fight to focus on not being lead into a bite of Eve’s apple. The level of maturity here increases away from the backpack, away from the custom design sneakers and into the deep feelings one experiences when in love, best exemplified by even more soulful songs you’ll love by Smith (of *69) on “(They Can’t) Define Our Love.” Witness Ali’s groove fusions of House and R&B, which compliment his diverse skills and perspectives on beat making, especially as it applies to hip-hop. The wait on him being in control of his own destiny is no more. This LP finally calls for the deserved respect the ‘quiet one’ might have missed being surrounding by others, for far too long.

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