Roots, A Tribe Called Quest Rappers Out On Their Own

Rahzel, Phife showcase solo material during double bill.

SAN FRANCISCO — Rappers Rahzel and Phife were a picture of contrasts Friday night at the Maritime Hall.

Where Phife is starting anew after the breakup of A Tribe Called Quest, Rahzel is striking while the iron is hot, launching a solo career while his band, the Roots, is at a peak. The Roots went platinum this year with the critically acclaimed Things Fall Apart.

The two men's sets reflected where they are in their careers. Phife's was dominated by abbreviated versions of A Tribe Called Quest songs and peppered with unreleased solo work. Rahzel stayed away from his work with the Roots, instead concentrating on songs from his forthcoming Make the Music 2000 (due Aug. 17) and showcasing his considerable beatbox skills with the assistance of fellow mouth-musician Kenny Mohammed.

"That was real hip-hop right there," Jackson Roth, 18, said at the end of the night after Phife, who had performed first, returned to freestyle over a beat laid down by Rahzel.

"It was worth it just for that," Roth said. "I mean, it was a little loose, but them kicking it at the end was what I wanted to see."

Both Phife and Rahzel gave energetic performances, though the sets seemed to ramble at times, as if the two men were still trying to find their solo sea legs.

"I know this is different with [A Tribe Called Quest members] Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed not being up here," Phife (born Malik Taylor) said midway through his hour-long performance. "It sure is different for me."

Indeed, it was Q-Tip's voice that dominated the bulk of A Tribe Called

Quest's greatest hits, so Phife performed a medley of many of them, with the audience encouraged to shout the choruses. That was the case with quick run-throughs of "Bonita Applebum," "Relax Yo Self," "Oh My God," "Hot Sex" and "Award Tour."

Phife did perform his verses from "Check the Rhime," "Scenario," "My

Name Is Mutty Ranks" (RealAudio

excerpt) and Tribe's final single, "Find a Way."

Phife was most energetic during songs from his forthcoming solo album,

which, he told the crowd, will be called The Life and Times of Mutty Ranks, Vol. 1. The songs — "The Essence," "Johnny Come Lately" and "Bend Over" — were as bouncy and lively as Tribe hits "Can I Kick It?" and "Buggin' Out." But in place of Tribe's jazziness, the songs came with hard-hitting, synthesized beats usually associated with Jay-Z or DMX. Freed from Tribe's positive image,

Phife swore a lot and tossed lyrical barbs at backstabbers and

fair-weather fans.

"He was good, but you could tell he was used to playing with a group, ya know?," Jordan Post, 24, said after the show. "I liked his new stuff, though."

Rahzel didn't have as tough a time winning over the crowd of 500, which was mixed in both race and gender. Fans were chanting Rahzel's name a good two hours before he stormed the stage in a white winter jacket and a blue New York Yankees cap.

Performing a solo beatbox set last year in San Francisco, Rahzel amazed his audience with one-man sound-alike versions of such songs as Aaliyah's "If Your Girl Only Knew" and Shai's "If I Ever Fall in Love." This time out, with an album of his own to promote, he kicked off the set with two new songs that featured his quick-paced rapping and occasional breaks into sound effects.

As a rapper, Rahzel had the crowd cheering his lively punch lines and confrontational lyrics, but it was his beatbox mastery they came to see.

First, though, newcomer Mohammed did his thing, spurring the crowd to

cheer loudly as he mimicked echo-y dub-drum sounds, placed the mic next

to his neck so it sounded as though the music were coming through a beat-up speaker and then imitated a DJ switching beats at a progressively faster pace.

When Rahzel took center-stage, he performed a set that was familiar to

anyone who has seen him solo or with the Roots. Not that anyone seemed

to care. "I've seen him do it three times now, but I still get chills

when he does that Art of Noise song," Annie Thomas, 21, said of Rahzel's

take on that group's "Moments in Love." "He just gets it so right."

Rahzel also tackled Mary J. Blige's "All I Need" and Wu-Tang Clan's

"Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing ta F' Wit," along with "If I Ever Fall in

Love" and "One in a Million," re-creating each one using only his vocal

cords, lips and tongue.

The evening concluded with a lively rendition of Rahzel's "All I Know" — the first single from Make the Music 2000 — and Phife's freestyle.

The tour continues Monday (June 28) at Palookaville in Santa Cruz and wraps up Tuesday (June 29) at the House of Blues in West Hollywood.