As year-end music summaries start flooding in, the remarkable success of the Fugees will suffice in most cases as the symbol for hip-hop righting itself, and the death of Tupac Shakur will represent gangsta rap's demise. Of course, in reality it's not that simple: gangsta rap still rules the chart, and the network of hip-hop acts on the real-but-positive tip reaches far and wide. A Tribe Called Quest has held its ground for six years now, and its dedication to keeping hip-hop street without sacrificing a conscience has been crucial in buoying the style in the tedious gangsta wave. While six months of listening to Tribe's latest album, Beats, Rhymes, and Life (Jive), has worn away some of its charm, it remains a fine piece of work. Stripping its sound down to basics--hence the title--Tribe stands up to gangsta postures without getting preachy, and the sheer musicality of the raps of Q-Tip and Phife remains unmatched. Brooklyn's Bush Babees are living testimony to Tribe's pervasive influence. On its second album, Gravity (Warner Brothers), the trio takes the album title as a motif, braiding the word's various meanings into a meditation on a way of life: staying close to the ground and maintaining a degree of solemnity. A host of producers (including the Ummah, aka Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Posdnuos, and the Babees's own Mr. Man) craft a variety of fat, jazzy grooves over which Mr. Man, Lee Major, and Light all deliver nimble, affirming raps. Light, a Jamaican emigre to New York, adds furious dancehall toasting to the Bush Babees' sound. Wednesday, 10 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-527-2583.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): A Tribe Called Quest photo by Christian Lantry/ Bush Babees photo by Daniel Hastings.