ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD at the Mod Club Theatre (722 College), Friday (April 23). $18. 416-588-4663 Rating: NNNNN
I keep trying to convince myself that the wheels are in motion. Last year, Q-Tip, Phife and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, those pilgrims of minimal jazz-infused beats, rhymes and life, verified rumours of a reunion of their revered golden-era outfit, A Tribe Called Quest.
After five years in Tribe's wake spent enduring its members' respective so-so solo shots, the world was like, "Whew."
From Q-Tip's clubby image redux of 99's Amplified to Phife's underexposed Ventilation: Da LP and DJ/producer Ali Shaheed's watery neo-soul supergroup Lucy Pearl albums of 2000, it was clear that A Tribe divided against itself could not stand.
Last summer, the three hit the studio up for the first time in a half-decade and recorded the track ICU (Doin' It) with Erykah Badu, and, as Phife rightly told MTV, "The chemistry never dwindled."
Despite being pissed at Jive for releasing an unauthorized b-sides album last year, the group agreed that the sixth album would drop on Britney Spears's label in early 04.
Now, I don't know about y'all, but I've been living in a tent outside of HMV since late December waiting for that shit to drop. It still hasn't.
Fed up, I'm talking to Ali Shaheed Muhammad, member of The Ummah production team alongside Jay Dee and Q-Tip, the man who breathed life into your favourite Tribe beats.
"We got together to do another album, and the product of that was ICU (Doin' It)," he explains over the phone from his New Jersey studio. "But the business of that kinda left somewhat of a... I'll just say it didn't go down the way we expected it to go down.
"With that experience, and the fact that Kamal (Q-Tip) is finishing his next solo and I'm doing the same, it just seems like everyone is pretty much focused on things other than Tribe. We're not thinking about A Tribe Called Quest right now."
Shaheed is thinking about Shaheedullah And Stereotypes, a record featuring Chip-Fu of the Fu-Schnickens, Stokely of Mint Condition, and members of his family, which finds the producer doing something he's never done before.
"It's me stepping into a new light, coming from behind the turntables and behind the mix board and stepping forward, up to the microphone as a lyricist, MC, singer, whatever you want to call it," he says.
This, in confluence with a new breed of musicality, should break all the stereotypes Shaheed's name calls to mind.
"I'm known as this jazzy hiphop backpacker producer, but I'm more than that. I want this next journey of mine to really state that. Please don't stereotype anything that I do, because I'm a lover of music and I want to be able to do different things."
He's also doing something he's always done - carrying the torch of social consciousness that A Tribe Called Quest first lit some 14 years ago.
"I felt that it was important, in the midst of gettin' your thug on and gettin' your drink on, to balance out other realities of life," he says.
"Hustlin' and selling drugs is accepted to the point that we've made it an excuse of it being a necessity of life in the ghettos, and it's not. It's been glorified so much from so many different artists that youths get this misconception like, -I gotta do what I gotta do.' That's an excuse. It's like, is that all you can come up with?"