April 23, 1990 12:00 PM

A Tribe Called Quest

In the same way that George Clinton brought an irrepressible joviality and playfulness to funk music in the 1970s, a number of young rappers have begun to move hip-hop music in a lighter, less solemn direction.

On their debut album, this Brooklyn quartet made up of young gentlemen calling themselves Q-Tip, Ali, Phife and Jarobi prove to be prime practitioners of the pixilation of rap. A song like “Luck of Lucien” unfolds in sections, with “La Marseillaise” bumping up against a jazzy brass groove. Jarobi’s declamatory couplets can get so bouncy and cadenced that at times it sounds like he’s reading Dr. Seuss.

Unlike so many rappers, this group doesn’t borrow well-known musical quotations as background—the exceptions being the bass riff to Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” which boots up “Can I Kick It?,” and a sampled snippet of an old Earth Wind & Fire yodel, which is interspersed through “Mr. Muhammad.”

Instead they come up with their own arrangements. And they’re an intriguingly eclectic mix, incorporating everything from marching bands to kettledrums to flamenco guitars to hip-hop zigzags behind the raps. Theirs is a style that lends itself to music video treatment, as anyone who has seen their clip to “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” knows.

That facet bodes well for the genre, since rap has thus far lagged behind the rest of pop music when it comes to the visual element so crucial for broad-based popularity nowadays. Pay no attention to the collection’s pedantic title. With their debut, A Tribe Called Quest follows the trail blazed by De La Soul toward loose-limbed, billowy and imaginative rap. (Jive/RCA)

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