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Charice L. | © A Tribe Called Quest at Rock the Bells #14/Flickr
Charice L. | © A Tribe Called Quest at Rock the Bells #14/Flickr
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An Introduction To A Tribe Called Quest In 10 Songs

Picture of Dania Duran
Updated: 1 August 2016
Hip-hop has been a hugely defining factor of the musical landscape since its inception. Hailing from New York City, A Tribe Called Quest – comprised of Phife Dawg (RIP), Q-Tip, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad – give us relatable, emotional lines, and some of the most iconic beats around. We give you an introduction to this legendary NYC hip-hop group in ten songs.

‘Can I Kick It?’

While the song was originally written when the trio were just 19, this single off of their first album, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, is one of the first songs to give the group some real recognition. Released under the Jive Record label (the very same that brought us other acts later on like the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears), the album was met with mixed reviews. Criticism was brought, for example, on the fairly plain sample of Lou Reed’s guitar from ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, to which you could say, with a little bit of historical perspective: do you know anything about hip-hop?

‘Bonita Applebum’

Another single off of People’s ‘Bonita Applebum’ was a major hit for the group, and has been rumored in the past to be about a girl the trio knew in high school. A silky smooth beat and an almost spoken-word rap, the song has one of the most well-known samples, featured in other songs by the Fugees and Jay-Z. The sharing of samples and their reincorporation into other songs is one of the basic fundamentals of hip-hop, started by groups like A Tribe Called Quest.

‘Butter’

After People’s success in 1990, the Tribe got back on its game and released The Low End Theory later the next year. The album was one of the first to employ a jazz mood with bass and horns that infused itself into every beat, and helped others draw the connections between hip-hop and jazz as two complementary driving forces in music. Mostly a Phife-driven tune, ‘Butter’ showcases his “smooth like butter” lyrical movements that can be seen throughout the groove-focused album, which to this day is considered one of the most influential hip-hop albums to have been made.

‘Check The Rhime’

Keeping in time with the rest of the The Low End Theory ‘Check the Rhime’ was the first real single for the album, and packed a punch with dense verses from both Q-Tip and Phife with a horn hook that just wouldn’t give up. Their raps seem effortless like banter but lyrically twist around a conversational tone with a strong sense of social awareness behind it. A Tribe Called Quest performed this on Yo! MTV Raps in 1991, keeping up that same energy we experience through the song, and adding some cool matching denim outfits.

‘Jazz (We’ve Got)’

The next single up after ‘Check the Rhime’ was fittingly called ‘Jazz (We’ve Got)’ which included a haunting jazz beat and strong plain drum line. In the band’s usual style the video starts off with them casually rapping in black and white along the City’s landscapes but also including a short rap at the end taken from one of their B-sides, ‘Buggin Out’, to provide a bit of color. Still, rap lines like Q-Tip’s addition, “For we put hip-hop on a brand new twist/ a brand new twist with a whole heap of mystic/ so low-key that you probably missed it/ And yet it’s so loud that it stands in the crowd/ When the guy takes the beat, they bowed.” are hard to top.

‘Oh My God’

By 1993 the group had released its third album, Midnight Marauders (1993), which skyrocketed to #1 on the R&B/Hip-hop charts and #8 on Billboard’s 200 for the same year. Still keeping within the jazz/groove rap scene, ‘Oh My God’ has a young Busta Rhymes on the chorus and a sample from OG funk-makers Kool & The Gang. The City runs deep in themusic, and it’s only fitting that the same happens in the band’s music videos. The one below starts off with the trio buying snacks from a convenience store and even has Busta on top of a deli.

‘Electric Relaxation’

There aren’t many things as ‘New York’ as Tribe music videos, and this is no different. From the backseat of the taxi to the diner, footage of skyscrapers, and rolling grey shots along bridges, it makes sense that the group hailed from Queens. Phife Dawg introduces us to the song and his intentions early on, “But I’m above the rim and this is how I ball/ a gritty little something on the New York street/ this is how I represent over this here beat” as we see and hear the streets of New York from an insider perspective.

‘Find A Way’

The fifth and final album from A Tribe Called Quest, The Love Movement (1998) generally was seen as having a more positive vibe than most of the band’s other discography. ‘Find A Way’ was the first single off of the album, and got full exposure with plenty of air-time and play-through not only in America but in the UK as well. A bit more relaxed and light, the song is something to throw on when you’re looking for moments of inner peace.

‘Hot Sex (On A Platter)’

A little harder than the rest of The Love Movement, ‘Hot Sex’ has a killer sexy beat and displays even more of Phife and Tip’s great lyricism. The video below was from the song’s inclusion in the Eddie Murphy movie Boomerang and shows Phife Dawg clad in a full face mask which calls up from memory another legendary rapper, MF DOOM, and his usual attire. Hip-hop always shares within itself and Tribe’s trailblazing ways paved that road for a lot of other rappers to lift from.

‘The Love’

A pretty overlooked addition to the The Love Movement, ‘The Love’ felt like a heartfelt reach out from Q-Tip to the fans and added an even more personal touch to a group that was already pretty open with their feelings and thoughts up until this point. Not that anyone had much of a doubt about the band’s intentions, Q-Tip reassures us all that they only rap for the love of rapping, something that was pretty undeniable by both their effort and reception over the course of their entire careers.