A Tribe Called Quest Unisex T-Shirt
Finally, a way to show your respect for some of the greatest icons, legends and pioneers that paved the way past and present. Rock this gear in style and bring back the moments that made you, memories they gave you and/or lessons they taught you. Scroll down for a history lesson with some of our favorite clips.
Welcome to the Respect Due family A Tribe Called Quest! We salute you.
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A Tribe Called Quest – Check The Rhime
A Tribe Called Quest was an American hip hop group formed in 1985 and originally composed of rapper and main producer Q-Tip, rapper Phife Dawg, DJ and co-producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and rapper Jarobi White, who left the group amicably in 1991. Later that year, the group released its jazz-influenced second album, The Low End Theory, regarded for helping shape alternative hip hop in the 1990s. Along with De La Soul, the group was a central part of the Native Tongues, enjoying the most commercial success out of all the groups to emerge from that collective. In 1998, the group broke up shortly before releasing its fifth album, The Love Movement, but in 2006, the group’s original members reunited and toured the United States. In 2016, the group released its sixth and final album, We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, which was still incomplete when Phife Dawg died suddenly in March 2016, and was completed by the other members after his death.
The group is regarded as a pioneer of alternative hip hop music. John Bush of AllMusic called them “the most intelligent, artistic rap group during the 1990s.” The Source gave the group’s debut album, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990), a perfect rating of five ‘mics,’ the first time the magazine gave out this rating. In 2005, A Tribe Called Quest received a Special Achievement Award at the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Awards in Atlanta. In 2007, the group was formally honored at the 4th VH1 Hip Hop Honors.
A Tribe Called Quest – Can I Kick It? (Official Video)
Q-Tip (Kamaal Ibn John Fareed) and Phife Dawg (Malik Izaak Taylor) were childhood friends who grew up together in Queens, New York City. Initially, Q-Tip performed as a solo artist under the name MC Love Child, occasionally teaming up with Ali Shaheed Muhammad as a rapper and DJ duo. While the duo frequently made demos with Phife, he only became a full member once Jarobi White joined; the group dubbed themselves “Crush Connection”. The group’s final name was coined in 1988 by the Jungle Brothers, who attended the same high school as Q-Tip and Muhammad. Q-Tip made two separate appearances on the Jungle Brothers’ debut album, Straight Out the Jungle, in the songs “Black is Black” and “The Promo”.
In early 1989, the group signed a demo deal with Geffen Records and produced a five-song demo, which included later album tracks “Description of a Fool”, “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” and “Pubic Enemy”. Geffen decided against offering the group a recording contract, and the group was granted permission to shop for a deal elsewhere. After receiving lucrative offers for multi-album deals from a variety of labels, the group opted for a modest deal offered by Jive Records. Jive Records was then known as an independent rap label that partly owed its success to building the careers of artists Boogie Down Productions and Too Short.
People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990)
Less than a year after signing with Jive, the group released their first single, “Description of a Fool”. Their debut album People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, was released on April 10, 1990, was marked by a playful lyrical approach, as on the call-and-response-inspired “Can I Kick It?”; light-hearted content like safe sex, vegetarianism, and youthful experiences; and to a lesser extent, an idiosyncratic sense of humor which was free from much of the posturing of both hardcore hip hop and the more left-wing aspects of conscious hip hop.
People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm was initially met with mixed reviews. Count Dracula of The Village Voice called the album “upliftingly dope” and “so sweet and lyrical, so user-friendly. You could play it in the background when you’re reading Proust.” The Source rated the album five mics, the magazine’s highest possible rating. However, Chuck Eddy of Rolling Stone wrote that the album “is one of the least danceable rap albums ever”, and he went on to say “it’s impossible to imagine how people will put this music to use.”
The album only gained momentum after the release of the singles “Bonita Applebum” and “Can I Kick It?”, and went gold six years later. After its release, Jarobi White left the group for personal reasons. A remastered 25th anniversary edition of People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm is now available on Legacy Recordings and RCA Records.
The Low End Theory (1991)
The group continued to gather a loyal fan base through touring and guest appearances such as on De La Soul’s “A Roller Skating Jam Named “Saturdays”. The group’s second album, The Low End Theory, was released on September 24, 1991, with “Check the Rhime” as the lead single. Based around a sample from Average White Band‘s “Love Your Life”, the song largely established the vocal interplay between Q-Tip and Phife; until then, most of the group’s songs had only featured vocals by Q-Tip.
The group began to focus on a range of social issues, from date rape (“The Infamous Date Rape”) to consumerism (“Skypager”). The songs were noticeably shorter, more abrupt, and bass-heavy. Guests on the album included Leaders of the New School (which included Busta Rhymes), Brand Nubian, and Vinia Mojica. Their innovative sampling, layering, and structuring of jazz records led many critics to label their style as jazz rap–a term which Q-Tip disapproved of, as he felt that while it described groups such as Stetsasonic well, it misinterpreted A Tribe Called Quest, who (aside from songs such as “Jazz (We’ve Got)“) did not always base their songs around jazz.
Around this time, the group began to make experimental and visually stylish music videos with director Jim Swaffield, among them the promo clip for “Check the Rhime,” set in their childhood neighborhood of St. Albans, Queens, the black-and-white “Jazz (We’ve Got)” which cuts abruptly into its colorful B-side “Buggin’ Out,” and the anthem “Scenario,” which simulated a computer desktop. A live performance of “Scenario” with Leaders of the New School on The Arsenio Hall Show led to greater popularity.
The Low End Theory was produced by A Tribe Called Quest along with Skeff Anselm (on two tracks). Pete Rock created the original rough draft version for “Jazz (We’ve Got)”. In contrast to most of the hip-hop albums released in the early 1990s, which featured rough beats at relatively fast tempos, such as Ice Cube‘s Amerikkka’s Most Wanted (1990) or Dr. Dre‘s The Chronic (1992), The Low End Theory featured low-key, bass-heavy, and plodding beats which emphasized the pensive nature of the record. The recording sessions and mixing for the album was handled by Bob Power at Battery Studios in New York City.
Rolling Stone lauded the album, saying, “Each time Q-Tip rhymes over Carter’s bass lines, the groove just gets deeper.” The publication also named it #154 among their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list, and also as one of the Essential Recordings of the 90s. Further praise was given by Spin, which listed it among the 90 Greatest Albums of the ’90s. AllMusic calls the record “one of the best hip-hop albums in history”, and “a record that sounds better with each listen.” Pop Matters music editor Dave Heaton said of the album:
Anything really worth writing about is nearly indescribable; that’s the conundrum of writing about music. Any 30-second snippet of The Low End Theory will go further to convince of the album’s greatness than anything I can write. I could easily write an entire book on this one album and still feel like I’ve hardly said anything. Still, I could do worse things with my time than try to capture even an iota of the enthusiasm I feel each time I play this album. The Low End Theory is a remarkable experience, as aesthetically and emotionally rewarding as any work of music I can think of.
The album was rated:
- 5 Mic Album award from The Source (1991)
- #2 in Ego Trip‘s Hip Hop’s 25 Greatest Albums by Year 1980–98 (1999)
- #53 in Blender‘s 100 Greatest American Albums of All time (2002)
- #56 in Pitchfork Media‘s Top 100 Favorite Records of the 1990s (2003)
- #154 in Rolling Stone‘s Best 500 Albums of All Time (2003)
- Spin Magazine
- #32 in Top 90 Albums of the 90s (1999)
- #38 in Top 100 Albums of the Last 20 Years (2005)
- #87 in 100 Alternative Albums (1995)
The Low End Theory performed very well on the charts and was RIAA-certified gold on February 19, 1992; it reached platinum status by 1995. In the aftermath of their success, the group once again toured and contributed the song “Hot Sex” to the soundtrack for the film Boomerang in 1992.
The new jack swing group Wreckx-N-Effect did take exception to “Jazz (We’ve Got)”, misinterpreting some lines as a diss:
I’m all into my music cuz it’s how I make papes
Tryin’ to make hits, like Kid Capri mix tapes
Me sweat another? I do my own thing
Strictly hardcore tracks, not a new jack swing
This misunderstanding resulted in a melee in which Q-Tip sustained an eye injury. Thus, during the shooting of the promo clip for “Hot Sex”, he wore a ski mask to cover up the abrasion. Soon after, Q-Tip was chosen to play the part of Markell, Janet Jackson‘s ill-fated partner, in the John Singleton-directed drama Poetic Justice, which also starred Tupac Shakur. The film led to a friendship between Q-Tip and Jackson, and they would go on to collaborate on her song “Got ‘Til It’s Gone” from her album The Velvet Rope, in 1997.
A Tribe Called Quest – I Left My Wallet In El Segundo (Official Video)
A Tribe Called Quest Live at Barclay’s – Bonita Applebum ft Stephanie Santiago
A Tribe Called Quest – Scenario
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