Good records work; great records have an organic unity. By their nature, tributes can rarely be more than good records, but somehow Red Hot + Riot manages to transcend that. In part it's because it moves into uncharted territory, mixing African and African-American artists in ways that haven't happened before, all in tribute to the late Fela Kuti (an apt subject for an AIDS fundraiser, since he died of the disease). And so there's rapping over Afro-beat grooves (a refreshing change from lame hip-hop beats), jazz, and R&B, African musicians playing Afro-beat, and a whole lot more, plus some of the most conscious words you'll hear in many a year. Mix Master Mike mashes up some Fela cuts for the interludes, which makes for perfect breaks, especially the opener, which leads into the powerful "Kalakuta Show" from two members of Blackalicious. It's a record of highlights, such as the groove jam on "Water Get No Enemy," with D'Angelo, Macy Gray, Nile Rodgers, and jazzer Roy Hargrove (who blows up a storm everywhere he appears on the disc) along with Femi Kuti, or the scathing "Shuffering and Shmiling," featuring Femi's band, Positive Force, behind Dead Prez and Talib Kweli, with Brazilian star Jorge Ben adding rhythm guitar and some sublime scat singing. Djali Madi Tounkara and Common team up for a lovely "Years of Tears and Sorrow," before Senegalese star Cheikh Lô unleashes a fearsome "Shankara/Lady," a song he played as a teen, adding talking drum and a thick sound. On "Gentleman," Me'Shell NdegéOcello and saxophonist Ron Blake work with Yerba Buena to create a piece that sounds like the song Talking Heads really wanted to do with "Life During Wartime." The mood slows toward the end of the album after "No Agreement," where Fela alumnus Tony Allen powers through the song, leading Baaba Maal, Ray Lema, and African rappers Positive Black Soul. It leads into two non-Fela songs, Kelis on "So Be It," which is pure Fela in feel if not execution, and a dreamy, dubby mix of Sade's "By Your Side" -- a fair inclusion since, like Fela, she's from Nigeria. It all ends with "Trouble Sleep," really Fela's only non-Afro-beat song, with Baaba Maal and Taj Mahal singing over Kaouding Cissoko's lulling kora, to close a record that's the perfect tribute to Fela's revolutionary spirit.
AllMusic Review by Chris Nickson