As one of the most legendary hip hop groups of all time A Tribe Called Quest’s influence cannot be understated. Through five albums they managed to encapsulate all that is good about the genre, adding touches of funk, jazz and soul to the boom bap sound of the late eighties and early nineties.
Recently they lost a member, as the the hip hop community mourned the death of Phife Dawg. As such we've revisited our article celebrating the group to pay tribute to one of the greatest collectives of all time.
‘Can I Kick It’ (1990)
There’s many things that Tribe did better than most, but two of them involved delivering infectious bass and out there samples. On this track, arguably their most well-known, they combined both tropes in one by embellishing the bassline from Lou Reed’s ‘Take a Walk on the Wild Side’ to craft a bottom heavy delight.
It’s the perfect entry point to ATCQ, and we’ve been kicking it to all the people who quest like the tribe does ever since.
"Back in the days when I was a teenager, before I had status and before I had a pager"
So begins Q-Tip on the first track ATCQ's sophomore effort The Low End Theory, in the process creating one of hip hop's most recognisable opening gambits. He then recites his relationship with his father over a brilliantly jazzy beat (even the bassline is ripped completely from an Art Blakey sample). Sublime in every way.
The posse cut in hip hop is, when done right, one of the greatest things about the genre. Rappers spitting in and out of each other in an attempt to outdo one another is one way to do it, but it's much better when said competitiveness is done with fluid chemistry - case in point when Leaders of the New School joined Tribe on this unreal cut.
It was the track which helped create Busta Rhymes as a star, in particular the performance of it on the Arsenio Hall Show (footage above), which saw him "rah rahing like a dungeon dragon" dressed in Dr Seuss inspired garbs, whilst turning his hat inside out. Incredible.
‘Oh My God’ (1993)
The third Tribe album Midnight Marauders is simply perfect from start to finish, a delectable snapshot of hip hop at it’s most joyous with an abundance of highlights. It’s tough picking one that stands out the most, but the presence of Busta once more amping things up on the chorus grabs the crown in our eyes.
It’s full of gems from both rappers as well, Tip letting everyone know he gets “down like a lady of the evening” with Phife pointing out he “likes his beats hard like two day old shit”. It's impossible for you to like hip hop and not grin to this from start to finish.
‘Find a Way’ (1998)
ATCQ’s fourth album Beats, Rhymes & Life incurred the wrath of many fans who were perturbed that Q-Tip was marginalising Phife and Ali Shaheed Muhammed in the sound stakes, pushing forward instead his own production collective the Ummah.
Most of that ire seemed to be positioned towards one relatively unknown producer who formed part of it, who despite work with The Pharcyde many heads felt wasn’t worthy of the Tribe. That man ended up doing alright for himself though – it was Jay Dee, more widely known as J Dilla.
The best beat he contributed by far though to the ATCQ canon was on the group's final album The Love Movement. ‘Find a Way’ is said masterpiece, a mesmerising cut which sampled Towa Tei's (of nineties funk staples Deee-Lite) 'Technova' and featured a memorable video with Q-Tip giddily doing the clown step on a beach.
It was the swansong for the group as a recording collective, yet adroitly kick-started their legacy that would be carried to new levels by the likes of Dilla, and the backpack movement spearheaded by Rawkus and Stones Throw. Few groups in hip hop match it