Welcome to Timeless Affairs, the corner of Steppin' Into Tomorrow, where we'd like to shine a spotlight on essential albums that have shaped our culture (and lives in some cases). We lovingly revisit, explore and zoom in on these gems in their full length. Digging out stories and fun facts from the making of the masterpieces that have built the foundation of the music today and continue to shape the future.
The legacy of the group consisting of 4 members (Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi) began in 1985, the year when one of the greatest hip hop groups that ever walked the Earths surface has formed. A Tribe Called Quest. They've produced five stellar albums between 1990 and 1998 and April this year marks the 31st birthday of their debut: People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. This particular musical piece indisputably opened a new decade in rap and made an enormous influence on the sound of hip hop as we know it today. Introduction of melody, unique musical aesthetic and jazzy beats were a big part of it, most of all the refreshing light-heartedness and playful poetic humor. The effortless side-step from the toughness of MCs was a complete game-changer at the time. The heritage of this album carried a very important message: Celebrate you, whoever you are. And the whole journey started right here on this timeless album.
‘Sit back, relax, listen to some hip-hop.’ -Phife Dawg, Ham ‘N' Eggs
In 1990, the toughness theme in rap music was predominant. Lead by MC’s like Public Enemy, Ice Cube and KRS One amongst others, most represented an ultra masculine hardcore presence and streetwise lyrics. This is precisely the time when A Tribe Called Quest, barely out of their teens, arrived on the scene as an antithesis. Just one year after De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising album. And they proceeded to flip the script around with their uplifting and positive-minded poetry. The whole thing about People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm is not only the remarkable MC skills, but also the attitude and confidence with which the album is delivered and the wide sonic vocabulary using refreshingly groovy instrumentation, rhythms, textures and jazz samples (which blew up enormously after this album has arrived).
From Lou Reed’s dreamy bass line on ‘Can I Kick It’, through joyful sun-soaked sample on the witty story song ‘I Left My Wallet In El Segundo’ and the smooth 'Bonita Applebum' infatuation that basically helped inspire the whole Neo-soul movement during the late 1990s, the energy that this album transcends from top to bottom is magically fun, poetic and revolutionary in its own way. Speaking of Bonita Applebum, there is a "grown" version, the excellent Hootie mix, sort of a sequel to the track that samples Isley Brother's 'Between the Sheets' and Biggie's 'Big Poppa' and features brand new lyrics by Q-Tip.
"I did ‘Bonita Applebum’ when I was 15. I had a different couple of versions of that song and then I flipped it to another version when I turned 18."- Q-Tip for Wax Poetics
The 'Rhythm (Devoted to the Art of Moving Butts)' track, incorporates more of a synth sound, which makes the song the most danceable from the album (hence the song title). You can hear African saxophonists Manu Dibango's chant from Soul Makossa in there (also honored by Michael Jackson on 'Wanna Be Startin Somethin'). Makossa is a Cameroonian style of urban music, the word itself meaning “(I) dance” in Douala language.
Tribe were members of the socially conscious movement called the Native Tongues. De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and The Jungle Brothers were the core members of the posse, along with Queen Latifah, Monie Love, Black Sheep, Fu-Schnickens, Chi-Ali, French MC Lucien Revolucien also known as Lucien M'B or Papalu (see 2nd track on the album: ‘Luck of Lucien’) and a whole list of peripheral members. The philosophy of The Native Tongues revolved around embracing Afrocentrism, open-minded lyricism and spreading it amongst the Hip Hop community and beyond. Mellow rhymes focused on intelligent message tracks, rarely sounding over-serious, instead just kickin’ it, having fun, being good to one another. The track Buddy, is a fine demonstration of that vibe. It's also the first recorded appearance of Q-Tip and Phife together.
Today, many consider the first time they heard the album a turning point in their lives. Tribe has successfully inspired many future rap acts that followed in their footsteps. Whenever we listen to the music of artists such as Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu, The Roots, Kanye West, Outkast, Pharrell, Common or Tyler the Creator among numerous others, the influence is indisputable. The group never stopped changing and innovating. Even now, after all this time, ATCQ remains a universal symbol of acceptance and individuality with their names carved permanently into the great walls of hip-hop history.
For the 25th Anniversary of the groups seminal album, a Deluxe Silver Edition was released, with a remastered sound by the one and only Bob Power, who has played pivotal role in their following releases and also put the 'Low' in the 'Low End Theory', the groups sophomore release. Additionally, the upgraded release comes with 3 bonus cuts. CeeLo Green spits a verse on the remix of 'Footprints', Pharrell reimagines the 'Bonita Applebum' classic in the most sensual way and J.Cole brings a brand new version of 'Can I Kick It' for your enjoyment.
At the same occasion, Chris Read of WhoSampled presented an exclusive mix-tape containing album cuts, alternate versions, b-sides, interview snippets and of course original sample material used in the album's production. In case you like to explore an extensive playlist of sample gems on this record like us and identify the process behind the final versions of the music, we've got you covered. All of the original samples and songs that inspired the music on this album have been gathered below (apart from a few unavailable ones).
Malik ‘Phife Dawg’ Taylor passed away untimely at the age of 45 due to complications resulting from diabetes, right before the group’s release of their 6th studio album ‘We Got It From Here, Thank You For Your Service’ in 2016. Impossibly soon. The Worlds Greatest Five-Footer is sorely missed by all those who love hip-hop and the culture.
Rest in Power Phife
'Can I kick it?
To my Tribe that flows in layers
Right now, Phife is a poem sayer
At times, I'm a studio conveyor
Mr. Dinkins, would you please be my mayor?
You'll be doing us a really big favor
Boy this track really has a lot of flavor
When it comes to rhythms, Quest is your savior
Follow us for the funky behavior
Make a note on the rhythm we gave ya
Feel free, drop ya pants, check ya ha-ir
Do you like the garments that we wear?
I instruct you to be the obeyer
A rhythm recipe that you'll savor
Doesn’t matter if you're minor or major
Yes the Tribe of the game we’re a player
As you inhale like a breath of fresh air
Can I kick it?’
-Phife Dawg's iconic verse on ‘Can I Kick It?’