Shaheedullah And Stereotypes
label: penalty
production: ali shaheed muhammad
guests: chip, kay, stokley williams, sy smith, others.
year of release: 2004
1. Social Reform
2. Lord Can I Have This Mercy feat. Chip
3. Industry/Life
4. Tight feat. Kay
5. All Right (Aight) / Stay Interlude
6. Put Me On feat. Stokley Williams
7. Honey Child feat. Sy Smith
8. Family feat Kay
9. (They Can't) Define Our Love feat. Sy Smith
10. Bangá feat. Stokley Williams
11. Part of the Night
12. From DJs 2 Musicians To...
13. U Suckers
14. Matches - Don't Play!!!
15. All Night feat. Wallace Gary
16. I Declare
17. Elevated Orange
Of course everybody expects A Tribe Called Quest music when they start to listen to an Ali Shaheed Muhammad album. That's however more than just unlikely. Not least because the last two Tribe albums sounded different than the first few ones (partially 'thanks' to JayDee), and also because Ali has shown on projects like Lucy Pearl, but also with collaborations with people like Gil Scott-Heron, Angie Stone, D'Angelo or Mint Condition that he does a lot of different music. Different not as in odd, but as in not-just-rap. That's why this album "Shaheedullah And Stereotypes" will never be a supplement to the Tribe catalogue, but it'll be an extra travel into the mind and musicianship of the one they call Ali.
Sampling is not an option either. Instead you get a continues stream of live instrumentation, with a lot of singing and Ali rapping. Yes, Ali raps now. He probably shouldn't either. Not necessarily because he's a severely bad rapper, but there's already enough really good rappers out there, we don't need another almost really good rapper.
Then again, what is really appreciated about Ali talking that he has a lot of good messages. Being on the very first song "Social Reform" or later with "I Declare", where Ali reads the US constitution - I guess. He carries this agenda into the accusing and very critical "Elevated Orange" and the hybrid song of R'n'B and rap "Industry / Life". Hybrid, because by now it's impossible to tell if he's having people sing over rap beats, or if he's rapping over R'n'B beats. Merely describing the music, separated by itself, it's very smooth, features the necessary progression and melody fragments to work. What doesn't mean that this merger of the two genres can not be annoying.
Not meaning that a "Tight" is not, well, tight. Or heck that a "Put Me On" is not even very tight. This song has an incredible drive, a hardness only matched by "Bangá" and a simple and constant stabbing bass drum, with Stokley Williams singing. Probably over a rap beat if we wanna try to classify this. The horns then awake the memories of past styles, and for those that are not familiar with 'em, some OutKast moments. Which in a way is a company this record could sit comfortable with (also considering that "Bangá" has some shades of Cee-Lo). And while throwing comparisons out there, "Family" with Kay stands in the style of early The Roots material. With the lyrics being as introspective, with Ali speaking about his family, exposing himself in the process. Part two is the talked song "From DJ's 2 Musicians To…" where Ali explains how his music came about, what basically interlopes with the story of how he came about.
Further adding to the genre portfolio, "All Night" even includes very slight element of House Music, making the song a couple of BPM shy of being a serious club banger. Instead it's a sweet song, with not much lyric, but a Wallace Gary taking us through a night that promises not too exhausting adventures.
Of course there's songs that should not be on this - or any other - record. Like "Honey Child" with horrible keyboard sounds, lyrics that are not much more than a far too long hook, plus a phone recording that has not been interesting in at least a couple of years. The keyboards are still too thick on "(They Can't) Define Our Love", but it is still better. Plus it's good R'n'B, or Neo-Soul or whatever people currently call this. Good because it's in many ways composed, rather than programmed, what's almost a novelty in this R'n'B genre now. What also explains why so much of it sucks. "U Suckers" than again does little good, allowing another skippable track.
It's very obvious why some people will not like this album. Especially if they expect Tribe material. Probably even if they don't and know Ali's other work. There's very few outstanding moments on this. The album is better in its whole than in its parts. And the few outstanding cuts also have to balance out some stinkers. Nevertheless, considering the lack of samples, considering his stepping to the mic, considering the tricky wasteland between R'n'B and Rap, this album could have been a disaster.
To not be a disaster can hardly be a success though (unless your name is Bush and you not messing up in a debate is considered to be a huge accomplishment; even by your friends). What all makes this an album you'll need to listen to yourself, because it'll be quite random who likes and dislikes it. But it's definitely possible to like Ali's music.
review: tadah
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