In the late ‘80s, a new trend of “conscious rap” was just beginning with the formation of De La Soul. Like-minded rappers, collectively referred to as The Native Tongues, helped kick-start the movement and showed that hip-hop could have a positive message, a contrast to the popular “Gangsta Rap” movement.
Another popular group that emerged out of The Native Tongues was A Tribe Called Quest. Formed in 1985, the group consisted of MC Q-Tip, MC Phife Dawg, MC Jarobi White and DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad. The group is similar to the style of De La Soul in that they heavily incorporate jazz influences into their music.
A Tribe Called Quest’s first record, “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm,” was released in 1990 and was met with fantastic reviews. The album even received a perfect rating from rap magazine The Source. The album produced three singles including the popular track “Can I Kick It?” The song features samples from rock ‘n’ roll great Lou Reed’s smash hit, “Take a Walk on the Wild Side,” and the chorus was later sampled by one of the greatest rappers alive — Jay-Z.
The technical lyrics composition in the record speaks for what the group had to offer. The song shows the diversity offered between Q-Tip and Phife Dawg. Q-Tip exhibits more layered rhymes and uses multisyllabic rhyming in the style of Rakim, whereas Phife Dawg is more blunt with his rhyming, while at the same time maintaining the flow set previously in Q-Tip’s verse. Unfortunately, after the release of their first album, Jarobi White left the group to attend school.
A year later, the group put out their sophomore effort, “The Low End Theory.” The album has an even heavier jazz influence, featuring a track titled “Jazz (We’ve Got),” and has a more layered lyrical style that combines nicely with simple drum patterns. With lyrics like, “So push it, along, trails, we blaze / Don’t deserve the gong, don’t deserve the praise / The tranquility will make ya unball your fist / For we put hip-hop on a brand new twist,” A Tribe Called Quest made it abundantly clear that they were producing something new by involving jazz influences. The album was eventually certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
A Tribe Called Quest released their third record, “Midnight Marauders,” in 1993. The album lived up to all of the expectations set forth by their previous album and stuck with the same feel as their other records. The cover of the album featured pictures of other rappers they respected, including the Beastie Boys, Chuck D and Dr. Dre. The album had three singles. The lead single, “Award Tour,” featured a guest appearance by fellow Native Tongues MC, Trugoy from De La Soul.
A Tribe Called Quest released a total of five albums before they split up in 1998 to pursue solo projects. Three of their five albums were certified platinum. The group reunited in 2004 to perform at the Rock the Bells concert in Anaheim, Calif. By coincidence, the night of the concert was the same night rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard of the Wu-Tang Clan passed away. In tribute, the group began their set with a 10-minute tribute to the deceased rapper. A Tribute Called Quest has yet to produce a new album, but hopefully that will change.