One of hip-hop’s most iconic and beloved groups, A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ), has been relatively quiet since it split up in 1998 after the release of its fifth and final album, “The Love Movement” (1998). New York-born Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Jarobi White and Ali Shaheed Muhammad formed the now-legendary outfit in 1985, and released their first record, “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm” in 1990. A Tribe Called Quest is defined by its conscious rapping and jazz-centric beats, as Q-Tip and Phife Dawg often trade lines, slinging bars about peace, love and juvenile camaraderie.
(A brief aside: ATCQ headlined Tufts’ Spring Fling concert in 1997. #TheGoodOldDays)
The group’s split in 1998 was sad, ugly and more or less expected by fans; both Q-Tip and Phife Dawg were at odds regarding the group’s future, and all four members felt a final break was necessary. ATCQ had accomplished more than pretty much all of its hip-hop brethren, bridging the gap between jazz and hip-hop in a new, innovative manner and releasing a handful of classic albums in the process. Though ATCQ hasn’t released new music since 1998, the four members have reunited multiple times since then, performing at the hip-hop music festival Rock the Bells in 2004, 2008 and 2010 and, more recently, opening for two shows on Kanye West’s “The Yeezus Tour” in 2013. According to Q-Tip, the two West concerts in New York were the group’s final hurrah together.
Fans were inclined to believe him until this year when ATCQ revealed its plan to reissue each of its previous albums, starting with “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm.” The debut album — re-released as the “25th Anniversary Edition” — hit shelves Nov 13. The four members of ATCQ performed together on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” (2014 – present) that same evening to promote the reissue.
“People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm – 25th Anniversary Edition” is the same masterpiece as the 1990 version (which received a perfect “five-mic” rating from The Source magazine), but also features three bonus remixes by Pharrell, J. Cole and CeeLo Green. The three remixes are adequate, especially J. Cole’s “Can I Kick It (Remix),” but give little reason to draw the listener away from the original 14 songs.
“Bonita Applebum” was described in former Grantland writer and hip-hop enthusiast Shea Serrano’s new book “The Rap Yearbook” (2015) as “the best rap love song that’s ever been,” and it very well may be. The track provides a glossy backdrop and intermittent banjo-y guitar riff over which Q-Tip quietly courts his beloved.
“I Left My Wallet In El Segundo,” meanwhile, is a cheeky, straightforward hip-hop song about leaving one’s wallet in a certain city in Los Angeles County. “Can I Kick It?” sees ATCQ at its most laid-back, as Q-Tip and Phife Dawg glide effortlessly over a mixture of samples, including, most notably, Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” (1972).
“People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm” rarely reveals the chemistry Q-Tip and Phife Dawg would later develop behind the mic, nor does it show the height of their individual achievements, but there are certainly glimpses of both: the duo’s lateral comfort on the aforementioned “Can I Kick It?,” Q-Tip’s soothing storytelling on “Luck of Lucien” and Phife Dawg’s high-pitched vivaciousness on “Mr. Muhammed.” The album, and the rest of ATCQ’s discography, have influenced artists both young and old, and will continue to do so for many years to come.
In a Nov. 16 interview with Billboard, The Roots drummer, Questlove, talked about his relationship with ATCQ’s music and its forward-thinking debut album.
“Tribe was socially conscious without being too self-conscious about it,” he said. “Q-Tip was telling stories and drawing characters with a light touch that went deep, and the samples dug into the most amazing corners of ’70s music. Was that a Vaughan Mason & Crew sample on ‘Public Enemy’? Were those jazz artists like Roy Ayers and Lonnie Smith? Tribe colored outside the lines of traditional funk and soul samples. [It] made your parents’ record collection relevant again. I almost drove out to El Segundo to leave my wallet there as a tribute.”
“People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm” is arguably only A Tribe Called Quest’s third-best album, but it’s still a classic in the world of hip-hop.