No Rock the Bells tour would be official without a godlike headliner at the helm. For the past five summers, the divine architects at hip-hop marketers Guerilla Union have delivered Public Enemy and Lauryn Hill, as well as reunion sets from Rage Against the Machine and Wu-Tang Clan, effectively making the hottest, grossest season of the year much cooler for hip-hop heads with receding hairlines. We don’t fearlessly nut-smuggle joints through security check points as often as we used to, but with acts like those, it’s worth risking our teaching licenses, Bar certifications, badges, visitation rights, and marriages.
THE SCENARIO “This is it, man – all you’re going to get is this tour,” Tip says. “We’ll just be keeping it essence like we always did.”
This year’s reunions should be especially attractive to those nostalgic for boom bap’s sophomore renaissance, since Method Man and Redman, the Pharcyde, and A Tribe Called Quest will be rocking to remind us that the hip-hop we grew up digesting through commercial arteries was not only eternally catchy but also infinitely inventive, perilously entertaining, and any other excessively positive adverb-adjective combination you might use to define what mainstream rap once was. For those of us who were intravenous Tribe fanatics, and even for those of you who still say, “I don’t really like hip-hop, but I love A Tribe Called Quest, the Beastie Boys, and De La Soul,” this should be far more exciting than when Faneuil Hall pub DJs slip “Can I Kick It?” into Friday night medleys between “Caribbean Queen” and “Closing Time.”
If one-quarter of the Massachusetts residents who claim wet palates for Native Tongue linguistics show up at Rock the Bells this Saturday at the Comcast Center, then the number of hand-me-down Scandinavian autos in the parking lot may break the record set at every Phish show ever. That doesn’t bother Q-Tip, though; if he had a problem sharing fans with Dave Matthews, Cake, and Billy Joel, then he would have Schiavo’d the group eons ago instead of rescuing it like Baby Jessica every few years for a reunion tour. “I’m honored that those people [who don’t otherwise like hip-hop] listen to me,” Tip says. “Hopefully they’ve dug what I’ve done enough to open the doors for other hip-hop out there, whether it’s Large Professor, Biggie, LL or N.W.A.”
No doubt. But while Biggie’s gone, N.W.A in its original form is irreversibly disbanded, Large Pro is strictly for cats who know, and LL is basically a joke (save for that whole “Rock the Bells” thing), Tribe’s reunification remains the topic du jour every jour hip-hop comes up amongst the flip-flop set. De La, which also rocks bells on Saturday, is not such a hot conversation piece, presumably because Pos, Maseo, and Trugoy have consistently toured and released admirable projects. That said, I’m obliged to drop this bomb on anyone expecting Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Tip, and Jarobi’s relationship to manifest beyond these tour dates: “This is it, man – all you’re going to get is this tour,” Tip says. “We’re waiting to hit the road to talk about how we’re going to do it, but we’ll just be keeping it essence like we always did.”
As expected, Tip is an extremely chill interview, but he’s short with his answers concerning Tribe. It’s hard to blame him; dude has a new solo disc dropping in October called The Renaissance (Universal/Motown) which, considering the shelving of his last two projects, 2005’s Open and 2002’s Kamaal the Abstract, should be nearly — and I said nearly — as anticipated as the Tribe reunion album that will never drop.
“I’ve just been working and staying in my square,” he says. “The album is done, so I’m just promoting the record, making sure that people feel it and hear it, and focusing on getting The Renaissance off and popping. After that, I’ll probably release Kamaal the Abstract around Christmas.”
The first single off The Renaissance, “Gettin’ Up,” is every morsel as progressively casual and metaphorically ambiguous as any libidinously scrumptious Tribe jam you’ve ever heard. According to Tip: “It’s uptempo and it also kind of charges. I’m happy with it; I feel like it’s representative of the raw beats on this album.” What it also represents is Tip’s break from the bouncy video vibe that cast his 1999 release Amplified far enough outside the Tribe shadow that many prefer to forget about it. So for those of you whose rap-related small talk has for the past decade entailed your story about a 1992 Tribe show and a denunciation of “Vivrant Thing,” it might be time to upgrade; because the next time we’re munching cheap brie and slugging Two Buck Chuck on a Brighton porch, I won’t talk about Tribe’s imaginary comeback disc unless you’ve given The Renaissance a fair chance.
Q-TIP + A TRIBE CALLED QUEST at Rock the Bells | Comcast Center, 885 South Main St, Mansfield MA | July 26 | 12 pm | livenation.com