Back in the days on the boulevard of Linden, they used to kick routines and the presence was fitting. It was Phife, Shaheed, and Q-tip the Abstract. The rhymes were so romping that we must be taken back. Reminisce with M.I.S.S. as we go on a quest with the one and only A Tribe Called Quest.
The moment I fell in love with hip-hop was the day I purchased my first A Tribe Called Quest album. I remember being captivated by the smooth voice of Q-Tip, the wit and playfulness of Phife Dawg’s rhymes, and the laid-back beats of producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad. This rap group was unlike any other rap group I had heard before. Their positive energy, intelligent rhymes, and mellow sound would greatly influence and enhance my music collection for years to come.
A Tribe Called Quest was formed in 1985 and consisted of rappers Q-Tip (Kamaal Ibn John Fareed), Phife Dawg (Malik Taylor), and DJ/producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad. A fourth member of the group, rapper Jarobi White left after the first album. The group met in high school and first went under the name of QUEST, until later given the prefix “A Tribe Called” by their high school buddies, The Jungle Brothers. Tribe along with the Jungle Brothers and De La Soul formed a collective unit that became known as The Native Tongues. The Native Tongues shared similar styles of abstract, positive-minded, and afrocentric lyricism that created growing buzz within the music community. People began to pay attention and in 1989, A Tribe Called Quest landed a recording contract with Jive Records.
“Do I love you? Do I lust for you? Am I sinner because I do the two? Can you let me know right now please…Bonita Applebum?”
“Bonita Applebum” (which happens to have been my ringtone for the past year) was the first single released by A Tribe Called Quest from their debut album People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. It’s been rumored to be about a real girl from the group’s high school and surprisingly not about me. Just kidding! The single showcased Q-Tip’s smooth, spoken word style of lyricism over electric sampling courtesy of the psychedelic soul/funk band Rotary Connection. Electric sampling and the group’s ability to incorporate jazz into their music helped them stand out amongst their counterparts. They offered an alternative to the then widely popular “gangster rap” genre by addressing topics such as industry politics, consumerism, and date rape, while still promoting positivity. People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm was certified gold and also featured other memorable hits such as “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” and “Can I Kick It?” The album was well-received critically, but had little mainstream appeal.
It wasn’t until the release of their sophomore effort The Low End Theory, considered by some to be one of the greatest rap albums of all time, that A Tribe Called Quest were well on their to becoming legends and hip-hop royalty. The Low End Theory was credited with linking hip-hop and jazz together in a way that was truly unique and never done before. “Check the Rhime” and “Jazz (We’ve Got)” were commercial successes from this album. The formula, the layout, and even the album cover art were so dope! From that album and moving forward, Tribe would forever become synonymous with a red-and-green body-painted female form on black background. The mysterious and sexy woman would also follow A Tribe Called Quest onto their third album cover, Midnight Marauders. On this album, the woman on the cover takes the role as the “Midnight Marauders Tour Guide”. In a robotic voice, the woman explains the title and introduces the album to us as a sort of program that we are being led through. Here are two excerpts:
Hello. This is your Midnight Marauder program. I’m on the front of your cover. I will be enhancing your cassettes and CDs with certain facts that you may find beneficial. The average bounce meter for your Midnight Marauder program will be in the area of 95 b.p.m. We hope that you will find our presentation precise, base heavy, and just right. Thanks.
Seven times out of ten, we listen to our music at night. Thus spawned the title of this program. The word “maraud” means to loot. In this case, we maraud for ears.
Midnight Marauders was certified platinum and proved to be a critical and commercial success for the group. Many of the artists that we love today such as Kanye West and Pharrell have stated that hearing the album, first inspired them to make music. Hits such as “Award Tour” and “Oh My God” instantly became classics. In the song “Electric Relaxation”, Q-tip wooed the ladies within the first few lines of the track by stating,
“Honey, check it out. You got me mesmerized with your black hair and your phat ass thighs. Street Poetry is my everyday, but yo I gotta stop when you trot my way…”
A Tribe Called Quest released two more albums before they split and went off into solo ventures. Beats, Rhymes, and Life and The Love Movement both featuring production by the late-great J. Dilla, spawned greats hits such as “Once Again“, “Stressed Out“, and “Find A Way“. Phife Dawg recorded a solo album, but has kept a relatively low profile due to a battle with diabetes and kidney failure. Ali Shaheed Muhammad teamed up with two other artists from former groups, Raphael Saadiq of Tony! Toni! Toné!, and Dawn Robinson of En Vogue to create super group Lucy Pearl. They had a big hit in 2000 entitled “Dance Tonight”. Unfortunately, they split soon after that. Rapper Q-Tip has kept himself busy by releasing three solo albums entitled Amplified, Kamaal the Abstract, and most recently The Renaissance in 2008. In 2007, the group was formally honored at the 4th VH1 Hip Hop Honors.
“Check The Rhime”
“Jazz (We’ve Got) & Buggin’ Out”
“Find a Way”
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