Black Music Month "20 Years Later: People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm"

Reposted from April 2010

It began with what seemed like cries of a baby at birth, then we were introduced to Q-Tip’s nasal flow and Phife’s high-pitched delivery and A Tribe Called Quest was born. It’s been 20 years since their debut album “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm” was released during the rise of West Coast Gangsta Rap (N.W.A.) and East Coast mic rippers (KRS-One, Chuck D., Rakim, Big Daddy Kane & Kool G. Rap), but Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi forged a path with their debut album that led to later classics, “The Low End Theory” and “Midnight Marauders”.

Phife’s boasts, mixed with Q-Tip’s sensible rhymes over Ali’s 70’s samples was a combination most listeners didn’t know how to interpret at first. The sound wasn’t dance music, and it wasn’t street commentary or aggressive M.C. angst, what ATCQ brought was two young M.C.’s rhyming over smooth grooves in the tradition of Native Tongue predecessors The Jungle Brothers and De La Soul, but a little more laid back with an infusion of humor, social awareness, health conscious (Ham ‘N’ Eggs) and just music to nod your head to.

The album also showcased the voices of the “other” kids in the neighborhood, those that weren’t necessarily living their lives in the rough and tumble streets, but were affected by street life and chose to channel their creativity differently and spoke about what they were learning, observing and living.

The playful tale of Q-Tip leaving his wallet in El Segundo was the first video single and reintroduced Tip after his appearance in De La Soul’s Native Tongue posse cut “Buddy” a year earlier, but it was the next single “Bonita Applebum” and its remix which classically sampled The Isley Brothers’ “Between the Sheets” that became hits and made Tribe a household name in homes that played hip hop. The call and response record “Can I Kick It?” was interpolated by Jay-Z on “22 Two’s” after which he gives a nod to its classic standing.

The rhythms themselves had at times four songs spliced together mixed with Ali’s scratching that bridged the 70’s to the new a new decade of rhyming, lingo, dress and a counter-culture within hip hop, the hip-hop hippies had arrived. Over the course of the decade, De La and Tribe will carry the flag for the Bohemian hip-hopper and ultimately pave the way for organic rappers like Mos Def, Black Thought, Common, Slum Village, Talib Kweli, Little Brother and various others.

Subsequent albums will find Phife appearing on more songs (Q-Tip’s rhymed solo on many songs) and saw the group move towards more jazz infused tracks as Tip’s influence behind the boards started to show and they next two albums would become instant classics reaching platinum status (it took People’s Instinctive… nearly six years to go gold).

The group would disband in 1998 and each member took their own creative path. Tip became a solo star with a style that put distance between his work with Tribe, Jarobi went on a quest after the first album, Ali Shaheed Muhammad worked with Raphael Saddiq’s supergroup Lucy Pearl and Phife (whose battling diabetes) took a few jabs at Tip on his lone solo album, but all his since been patched up as the group has toured sparingly in the last few years, were honored at VH1’s “Hip Hop Honors” in 2007, but no reunion album has been made, leaving long-time fans with memories that began on April 17th, 1990 and 20 years later still make their heads nod.

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