A Tribe Called Quest
Reviewed on this page:
People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths Of Rhythm -
The Low End Theory - Beats, Rhymes And Life
A hip hop crew formed in the late 80s, focusing on good times and, as they put it, "devoted to the art of moving
butts." Sort of like a New York version of Digital Underground, minus the relentless
sexuality, plus occasional cosmic speculations courtesy of Q-Tip, who bills himself as "the Abstract Philosopher."
The group broke up around 1997, and at least one solo project has been released (Q-Tip's).
There's a fan site with solid basic information and groovy
Q-Tip, Phife Diggy, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, all rap vocals.
People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths Of Rhythm (1990)
On this double-length debut, the Tribe digs up tons of unusual samples, including the Rotary Connection sitar break
recently overused by the Fugees ("Bonita Applebaum"), obscure
fusion and jazz licks ("Luck Of Lucien"), flamenco guitar, Lou Reed ("Can I Kick
It?") in addition to standard sources like P-Funk
("Rhythm") and Earth Wind & Fire ("Mr. Muhammed").
The mix keeps you engaged and diverted: it isn't as inventive as, say, the
patchwork technique of the Bomb Squad,
but it's worlds ahead of the one-loop Puffy
hit-of-the-week we're flooded with nowadays. On the down side, there
are too many shaggy-dog stories, the humor misses ("Left My
Wallet In El Segundo") as often as it connects
("Ham 'N' Eggs"), several tunes are way too long, and the
frequent reprises of the opening number "Push It Along" are redundant.
Enjoyable party music that's clever but doesn't take itself too seriously.
Also in 1990, Q-Tip guested on Deee-Lite's World Clique. (DBW)
The Low End Theory (1991)
They're not kidding: the bass is cranked up so loud you may blow out
your speakers, and you're almost guaranteed to have trouble hearing the
vocalists. This was a response to the swarm of sampling lawsuits that took
place in 1989 and 1990: the Tribe switched from the dense sample-heavy mix of
their previous effort to one main sample or loop per tune, mostly relying
on jazz bass (Ron Carter appears
on the Q-Tip showcase "Verses From The Abstract"). You end up with an
intriguing mix of subtlety and brute force, but after too many tracks
in a row, it gets a bit formulaic ("Jazz (We've Got)"). The good news is,
the lyrics are significantly more complex and mature than on the previous
release, with sharp rhymes all over tracks like "Excursions," "Check
The Rhime" and the anti-industry "Show Business." There's also an
interesting social comment, "The Infamous Date Rape," where they demonstrate
they're not just party animals. Future star Busta Rhymes contributes a
fierce, goofy cameo on the album closer "Scenario."
I can't agree with those who consider this a hip hop landmark, because it's low
on musical originality and emotional force, but it's worth checking out. (DBW)
Midnight Marauders (1993)
Beats, Rhymes And Life (1996)
Produced by The Ummah, which is apparently Tip and Jay Dee, without any of the jazz stylings Ali favored. The new
approach is simple drum loop, keyboard bass and slow tempo, which all adds up to a surprisingly (compared to their
early work) boring set of tracks. Even when the rhymes are sharp ("Mind Power," "Word Play") or the sample is good
(the guitar riff of "Keeping It Moving") the low-energy delivery
and production drag it down. Smoking lots of pot is not, repeat, not conducive to exciting music.
The best songs are the ones spotlighting female backing vocals, including "1nce Again" (which also has some of the
disc's most biting lyrics) with Tammy Lucas, and the closing "Stressed Out," with lovely multitracked vocals from
R&B star Faith Evans.
The Love Movement (1998)
Amplified (Q-Tip: 1999)
From what I've heard, this is Q-Tip's version of Bobby Digital: a cartoonish sexual
superhero. Produced by The Ummah. (DBW)
Kamaal The Abstract (Q-Tip: rec. 2002, unreleased)
Nearly released, but canned by the record company at the last minute.
The Renaissance (Q-Tip: 2008)
I've heard this once, and it's a deeply mediocre party record - I have to think anyone who waited nine years for this is kicking themselves right now. But don't answer yet: you also get a Norah Jones guest appearance.