Repeat the following phrase until it sinks in: this is not an album by A Tribe Called Quest. Try it once again. And again. I don't think you've gotten it yet say it five more times.
Got it? Doesn't it feel freeing to go into an album with no preconceived notions of what it should sound like? Isn't it great to just be able to experience music on its own terms? If it helps, look at it like a court case: previous acts (good or bad) are inadmissible as evidence unless they directly relate to the crime in question. Not that Amplified is a crime. In fact, it's far from it.
Amplified is a revelation, a solution to those who questioned what sound producers Q-Tip and Jay Dee were after when they started incorporating R&B hooks and electro-beats on the last two Tribe albums. This time 'round, they've achieved a fantastically jumpy yet smooth sound that is infectious as the influenza and ready for clubs, cruising and chillin'. Those who are wearing out their umpteenth copy of The Low End Theory will bristle at Q-Tip's sex rhymes and programmed beats (indeed, the fan reviews popping up on the Net within the first week of the album's release have been calling Q-Tip a sellout), but anyone with an ear for artistry will realize that there was no way Q-Tip could've made this record with the legend of A Tribe Called Quest hanging over his head.
Freed from his own success by the Tribe breakup, Q-Tip has expanded his sonic pallet to include harder beats, electro-loops and rhymes that are more straight-ahead than off-the-wall Tribe stuff such as "Scenario," "Award Tour" or "Push It Along." The album kicks off with 20 seconds of Kraftwerk-like electro-pulse before switching gears into the delightfully jazzy "Wait Up," (RealAudio excerpt) but the remainder of the album is dominated by beats and synths programmed to keep up with (and in most cases surpass) the competition. Example: "End Of Time" (RealAudio excerpt) features Korn, and it must have been tempting to do a rock-rap thing, but Korn instead supply the moody atmospherics while Q-Tip takes care of the bulk of the rhymes. The end result is OK, nothing stellar but both artists get points for trying.
"Vivrant Thing" and "Breathe and Stop" (RealAudio excerpt) (the first two singles) are more representative of the album's overall sound: just enough bouncy club beats to get ya' moving yet still indie enough to keep your head concentrated on the lyrics. On the other hand, Q-Tip hasn't completely abandoned his jazz-rap past: "Wait Up," "Higher," "Let's Ride" and "N.T." are all built on Tribe-esque loops and each is a worthy addition to the jazz-rap canon. "N.T." is more notable for featuring the scariest Busta Rhymes cameo to date he really does sound like he's about to jump through the speakers and punch you in the nose. "Higher," on the other end of the spectrum, is very Tribe-like: positive, active and easy to groove to. If anyone is gonna jump through the speakers on that song, it's Q-Tip, to show you a new dance step.
Perhaps it's the sequencing or perhaps it's the fact that Q-Tip doesn't change his rap style, be it hardcore or jazzy loops, but Amplified has a great flow to it. It's the sound of someone hitting his stride after a stumble. As The Artist did with Emancipation, Q-Tip communicates very clearly that with Amplified he's having a great time creating exactly the kind of art he likes best.