Chi-Ali: The Native Tongue's Native Son

While I loved every minute of the Tribe Called Quest documentary, Beats, Rhymes and Life -- the best thing about the film was re-discovering the Native Tongue family, and the mini-revolution they started among late '80s/early '90s hip-hop. We've already talked about Monie Love -- an anomaly to the group, so next in line is the strange case of Chi Ali, or the Fabulous Chi-Ali. In the present, not that fab, as he admits in a recent mini-doc about his life, that 30 seconds and a gun charge changed everything. He's now in, or just recently released from, Sing Sing prison. But way back, with "Age Ain't Nothing But a Number," he was a young, budding, rapper with the instant cred of the Native Tongue in his arsenal. He couldn't have been a day over 13 when he debuted. By the time the record came out, he had aged, you can hear it in his voice going from "Roadrunner" and onto "Funky Lemonade." But to me, he was part of my crew -- as a tween mutant, I thought I was in my own rap crew (Teenage Soldiers, where's Shane Darner when you need his craps table).

In retrospect, besides the single, The Fabulous Chi-Ali is a highly inconsistent record. He started becoming more sophisto in aforementioned follow-ups on the album. Still, the Beatnuts produced, "Let the Horns Blow," is worth seeking out. It was the essential posse cut, involving Dove of the Jungle Bros., Phife of Tribe, and Dres from Black Sheep, and displays young Chi as a triumphant sixth man with the most inspired verse of his short career. Must'a been feeling the energy in the room that day, because after this, Chi had little to offer. A shame, a tragedy, at least he knows his faults. 

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