After A Tribe Called Quest culminated a decade of influence with The Love Movement, the group's loyalists immediately shifted gears, turning their attention to frontman Q-Tip's solo debut, Amplified, and delegating the group's oft-neglected member, Phife Dawg, back into a role he has become very accustomed to: second fiddle. Eager to step out of Q-Tip's shadow, Phife's solo debut, Ventilation, not only reveals his true musical ambitions but also the feelings he has repressed since the legendary group disassembled. Though the group's split was deemed amicable, "Flawless" suggests otherwise. Sending tremors through Tribe's sacred foundation, Phife spares the rod on the third group member, Ali, but questions his former partner's new "jiggy" image on "Flawless": "FUBU suit with Steve Madden boots make me wanna puke/Phat Farm shorts with a garter belt looking like a whore/or a purple bandanna cuz it matches your shaw." Though Phife's frivolous lyrical banter becomes monotonous for stretches, an esteemed production squad -- Hi-Tek, Pete Rock, and Jay Dee -- keeps Ventilation musically stimulating throughout. Phife sparks the most immediate chemistry with Hi-Tek on "D.R.U.G.S." and "Alphabet Soup," as his unassuming voice flourishes over the producer's minimal grooves. What Phife's solo debut lacks in execution, though, is compensated with intrigue. Other than a few aimless party cuts, such as "The Club Hoppa," Phife steers Ventilation on a fairly consistent course. One thing's for certain: After hearing Ventilation, Q-Tip will be wondering who let the Dawg off his leash.
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AllMusic Review by Matt Conaway
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