The [B]Wu[/B] footsoldiers are massing....
Understandably, it's often easy to miss the gems amid the generic. At first, the solo debut by Q-Tip seems to follow the millennial hip-hop formula to the point of near anonymity: the clipped staccato sub-Missy & Timbaland beats of first single 'Breathe And Stop'; the booty-shaking-in-a-fish-eye formula of ubiquitous Hype Williams' attendant video; the completely inevitable walk-on part for Busta Rhymes, fit to drop after blustering his way through guest spots on [I]every single[/I] rap album of the past year or so.
Stick with it, though. 'Amplified' is an album that rapidly lives up to Q-Tip's illustrious pedigree as chief rapper in New York trailblazers A Tribe Called Quest. Here, Q and production partner Jay Dee take the tricks patented by his old band - looped jazz snippets, low-end minimalism - and update them with the kind of super-sharp, digital edginess that's essential for a successful hip-hop album right now.
The result is a quite brilliant hybrid of the organic and the modernist, so that 'Amplified' rolls along with a true funky effortlessness, like cyber R&B's flipped-out beatnik cousin. Take 'Let's Ride', in which Q-Tip unveils his new truck - a [I]"four-point something with a low-ride something"[/I], if you're checking specs - and, over a hideously groovy guitar figure, gives the venerable driving/shagging metaphor one more strangely eloquent spin. It's cheeky rather than macho, a stance reinforced by his nasal, helium-sucking raps that give the impression of a nippy cartoon character rather than the usual dour, repetitive gangsta shit.
So 'NT' pivots on some limber, bluesy piano and a beat that's more suited to tap than breakdancing, with Q and Busta's radically contrasting styles - nimble versus splutter - jousting brilliantly over the top. There are a couple of fashion casualty tracks, too - the spry Latino flourishes of 'Do It' are fair enough, but 'End Of Time' is lumbering rap-metal tosh with Korn churning away and Jonathan Davis doing his panto goth spookee voice while the usually graceful Q-Tip goes wading through shit in the background.
It's an unnecessary indignity, really, for 'Amplified' proves an old master can still be a vital force. And, at 45 minutes, there's far less filler material than the usual bloated hip-hop guff. One worth rescuing from the hip-hop avalanche, for sure.
To read all our reviews first - days before they appear online - check out NME magazine, on sale every Wednesday