Pardon the bulge in the front of my pants but I’m a huge (no pun intended) A Tribe Called Quest Stan. Now that we got that out the way, let’s proceed.
During the mid to late eighties the source material for the majority of hip-hop artists instrumentals were constructed around R&B and funk loops (i.e. James Brown) and the rhymes consisted of garbage bags full of braggadocio. Then the Native Tongue collective hit planet earth. The Jungle Brothers and De La Soul would both use jazz samples and cover topics the average man can relate to, but I think most heads will agree that A Tribe Called Quest perfected the art of the hip-hop-jazz fusion and as Q-Tip would describe their rhyme style: “saying this and that, cause this and that was missing”.
A Tribe Called Quest upon its conception consisted of lead emcee Q-Tip, his mic assistant Phife, deejay Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi, who I’m still not sure what his function actually was in the group. After making cameos on both the Jungle Brothers and De La Soul projects (at least Q-Tip) ATCQ would ink a deal with Jive/RCA and release their debut album People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm…a title that’s way too long for anyone good and will be refered to as People’sfor the remainder of this write up. People’s
was received with critical acclaim but not so much commercially(it took 6 years to reach gold status), earing a 5 mic rating from The Source (wow, it been’s a minute since I’ve done a “Did The Source Get It Right?” segment…remember those? ), but probably more importantly laid the foundation for their next two efforts which are undeniable gems and possibly the best one-two punch albums in hip-hop history.
Michael Rapaport recently released the documentary about ATCQ titled Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest [Blu-ray], which I strongly recommend for anyone who considers themself a fan of ATCQ or golden era hip-hop.
Push It Along - This starts with what I’ve always assumed was a newborn baby traveling through the birth canal to reach its destination into the world, a metaphor for ATCQ’s birth into the listening publics ears. Once we get past the dramatics, heavy drums dropped and soon are accompanied by a beautifully warm jazz loop. Fittingly, Q-tip takes time on the first verse to humbly introduce himself to the listening public and explain his position in the game (“saying this and that, cause this and that was missing”). Phife gets half a verse before Q-tip interrupts him, snatches his mic and takes over for the remainder of the song (hmm..maybe some early evidence to Phife’s claim in the ATCQ documentary of Q-Tip being a tyrant amongst the group members?). Perfect way to start your debut album…although the 2 in a half minutes of Jarobi welcoming us to the album, introducing us to the group members, and the next song was kind of overkill.
Luck Of Lucien - This serves as Q-tip’s tongue-in-cheek dedication to his french ami Lucien (which if my memory serves me correct later made a cameo on Kurious’ Constipated Monkey. Most of Tip’s line are inside jokes that probably make a lot more sense to Lucien but not so inside that the listener can’t enjoy the song. The instrumental is lovely and only gets better when the horns kick in during the refrain.
After Hours - There is a reason Q-tip calls himself the Abstract Poetic, you know. I can’t say I’ve ever heard a rapper describe something as mundane as hanging out late night with the fellas so poetically, even at points sounding sage like with line like “we all say peace and go our separate ways, youth is fading as we gain our days”. The instrumental serves as the perfect backdrop for Tip’s rhymes and fits the song title perfectly.
Footprints – This instrumental bangs like Pops Witherspoon, and Q-tip lightweight voice does a solid job of keeping pace with the heavy drum beat as well. Four for four. Nice start, fellas.
I Left My Wallet In El Segundo - Okay. I love ATCQ but ironically I’ve always hated this song which also happens to be their first single. Q-tip paints a tale of a trip to El Segundo (which as he explains in the ATCQ documentary was inspired by Red Foxx’s character Fred G Sanford from “Sanford and Son”) where, like the title suggests, he leaves his wallet. Nothing about this song is appealing to me and Tip only makes matters worse when uses the term “badder”. Not sure if I’ve mentioned this before on this blog but the only term I hate more than “badder” is “worser”…ugh!
Pubic Enemy - DJ Red Alert (who is also responsible for getting ATCQ in the door) co-signs throughout this song as Q-tip shares two tales of a man and a woman who didn’t use protection and got burned. In the past I’ve never cared much for this Public Service Announcement, but today Q-tip’s lyrics held my attention (maybe I’ve matured in the last 20 odd years…I hope so). The instrumental still sounds like a bunch of noise, though.
Bonita Applebum - Easily one of the top five hip-hop song off all time. I repeat: if you consider yourself a “head” you MUST add this to your playlist immediately. It’s that urgent. Q-Tip is in spoken word mode as he expresses his feelings for a young lady, and his approach fits perfectly with this instrumental. If you’ve never heard this song before stop reading this write-up immediately, download the song, listen to, then return to your normally scheduled program. Yes, it is that serious.
Can I Kick It? - I believe this was released as the third single from the album. While the album version samples Lou Reed’s “A Walk On The Wildside”, the video leaves it out giving it a little different feel (i.e. empty) in comparison. I’ve never been crazy about this song, but it’s alright, I guess.
Youthful Expression - Q-tip rides this funky instrumental with a perfect dead pan delivery as he weaves a lyrical web with witty punch lines and comical one-liners. I love the base line…nice.
Rhythm (Devoted To The Art Of Moving Butts) - Okay. If you don’t like this song I completely understand. The instrumental is simple and can even be classified as empty. Personally I still like this song as it has a serene feel to it . It sounds really good on cloudy or rainy days. I’m serious, play it on the next cloudy day…its musical meditation, man.
Mr. Muhammad - This is an ode to the group’s DJ, Ali Shaheed Muhammad. I don’t hate this song like I do “El Segundo” but I do have a strong dislike for it. Oh, Phife returns from his extended potty break and spits a verse too.
Ham ‘N’ Eggs - In case you had any questions or concerns about ATCQ’s dietary regiment…here you are. 2 things to note: Phife makes his 4th and final appearance on “Peoples” and the only explicit on the entire album (an F-bomb) is dropped as they get hyped while chanting the hook as the song fades out.
Go Ahead In The Rain - Q-tip shares a spoken word poem (in a somewhat distorted vocal) over a laid back guitar loop, encouraging the listener to keep striving in spite of adversity…thus the title of the track. Get it? Go ahead…in the rain? Moving on…
Description Of A Fool – Q-tip uses 2 verses (the second one is extremely long and could have been broken into two, but once you listen to it you see it plays out better as one verse) to paint vivid pictures of said “fools”. I love Tip’s intro as he asks someone to read the definition of the word “fool”, then lets the dope instrumental loop play for a while almost as if giving the listener a chance to find it in Webster’s (or in this day and age google it), then coming back in with a distorted voice to read the definition. This was nice and a pretty decent way to end the album.
People’s is a solid debut from, if you haven’t figured out already, my favorite hip-hop group of all time. Q-Tip establishes himself as the face of the Tribe, waxing poetic, sagic, and introspective while covering topics that your favorite hardcore or gangsta rapper wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole over laid back jazz sample infused beats. Phife does make a few appearances but wouldn’t be appreciated until their follow-up The Low End Theory (boing!!!) and hopefully I’ll get to that by the year 2020. There are 3 or 4 songs that could have been left on the cutting room floor and no one would have missed them (i.e. “El Segundo”) but the majority of it works.
Did The Source Get It Right? As surprising as this may be for some of you to hear from my mouth:no, they didn’t. It’s solid effort but there is definitely room for improvement which they would make on The Low End Theory. See, I’m not always bias.