If you don't know of A Tribe Called Quest, you probably don't know much about hip-hop. That's okay, though, because that's what this blog is for: to inform you. Still, I don't think this group needs much of an introduction.
In case you don't know, A Tribe Called Quest is a three-man group composed of rappers Q-Tip and Phife Dawg and producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Of course, Q-Tip went on to become a pretty dope producer himself ("One Love," anyone?), but the main man behind Tribe's earlier work was Ali.
The trio formed in 1985, and five years later, they put out their debut album, People's Instinctive Travels and The Paths of Rhythm, which, from this point on, I will be referring to as People's Instinctive Travels for obvious reasons.
Tribe would go on to release five albums as a group, the last behind The Love Movement in 1998. They then disbanded and never released any group material again. Q-Tip and Phife Dawg went on to pursue solo careers, however, and both of them have been successful.
Q-Tip, Phife and Ali were not like the typical hip-hop groups of that day (or any day, for that matter). Their content was very playful and peaceful in nature, very much unlike the more violent, misogynistic raps that have permeated the genre for decades now.
Not surprisingly, People's Instinctive Travels did not garner much radio airplay, but it was given five mics in The Source (you know, back when The Source actually mattered) and was certified gold in 1996.
The album spawned three minor "hits": "I Left My Wallet In El Segundo," "Bonita Applebum" and "Can I Kick It?".
Now that's enough background information about a group that you are probably already very familiar with anyway.
Let's review their first album.
1. Push It Along
After a rather creepy 40-second intro featuring what I can only hope is some sort of baby's birth, a smooth beat with some pretty awesome drums kicks in. The song features four verses, three of them from Q-Tip. Then, for the last two-and-a-half minutes or so, Jarobi White decides to introduce A Tribe Called Quest. Um, far be it from me to recommend an album intro, but isn't that something that should have been done before the first actual track?
2. Luck of Lucien
The instrumental here has a buoyant, upbeat feel, and Q-Tip handles it all by himself (that actually happens quite a bit on this album). You can probably already see why Tribe did not have much mainstream appeal: they just weren't flashy enough, but that is not a condemnation from my end at all.
3. After Hours
This is the second of three straight Q-Tip solos. While "After Hours" is hardly a poor record, the production on "After Hours" lacks the punch that the first two cuts had. It just comes across as slightly mundane.
Now this is not mundane. As a matter of fact, this is freaking awesome. The jazzy beat contains some banging drums (just wait until they kick in), and Q-Tip sounds thrilled to rhyme over it. "Footprints" instills an energy that had been missing from People's Instinctive Travels up until now.
5. I Left My Wallet In El Segundo
The aforementioned first single, and it is just great. The drums knock, and the Spanish guitar licks add a beautiful element to the instrumental. It sounds nothing like you would expect out of a lead single, though. Oh, and remember before when I said tracks 2 through 4 were Q-Tip solos? Well, Phife Dawg drops ad-libs throughout this song, so this is technically not a Q-Tip solo. That being said, Phife does not drop a verse, so maybe I'm just being nitpicky.
6. Pubic Enemy
No; that title is not a misprint. That really is the name of the track, which really isn't all that good, even though the content is pretty funny. The production is just way too busy. Fortunately, this was the shortest record on the album.
7. Bonita Applebum
The second single, and it was a pretty damn good choice by Tribe. The relaxing beat is outstanding, and even though Q-Tip basically "talks" through is verses rather than actually spit them, "Bonita Applebum" is pretty great. That's all I have to say.
8. Can I Kick It?
The last (and possibly the most well-known) single off of People's Instinctive Travels. The instrumental here is alright, although the way it changes on the hook is fairly obnoxious. Also, there is kind of an awkward balance of music and rapping here. The beat just goes on for too long without Tribe spitting for much of the song. Phife Dawg is finally back to drop a verse though, so that's good.
9. Youthful Expression
"Youthful Expression" is another fast-paced production, and Q-Tip is back to going in on it all by his lonesome. Honestly, this was kind of dull and unnecessarily long (the beat runs for about an extra minute-and-a-half after Tip is done rapping).
10. Rhythm (Devoted To The Art of Moving Butts)
Things kind of get back on the right track here. This is a solid cut, even if the chopped vocal that appears throughout is just weird. My ultimate conclusion? I don't really see how this will start moving butts. Whatever, though.
11. Mr. Muhammad
I can't believe I'm saying this about a Tribe record, but this song sucks. The instrumental is actually irritating. This album is really starting to lose momentum.
12. Ham 'n' Eggs
This was better than "Mr. Muhammad," but I'm wondering where all of the energy that "Bonita Applebum" built has gone. While the production on "Ham 'n' Eggs" is okay, it's hardly memorable, and the track as a whole is just far too long (five-and-a-half minutes). Plus, the way the hook keeps repeating as the record comes to a close is just annoying.
13. Go Ahead In The Rain
Ah; and the album's vigor has returned. This cut is pretty damn good, from the cheerful, addictive beat to Q-Tip's verses. "Go Ahead In The Rain" probably should have been the song named "Rhythm (Devoted To The Art of Moving Butts)," but whatever. I really liked this track.
14. Description of a Fool
Funny story about "Description of a Fool." This was actually the first record A Tribe Called Quest ever released (they dropped it in 1989), but it received virtually no attention and was therefore not marketed as a single for People's Instinctive Travels. It's actually pretty solid, but I have to say that the instrumental carries on for an exasperatingly long while after Q-Tip finishes spitting. There is absolutely no reason why this had to be nearly six minutes in length.
You can tell that A Tribe Called Quest had not yet concocted their magic formula on their debut album, as People's Instinctive Travels is all over the place. Some of the songs on here are really, really good, but others are just extremely boring and, sometimes, annoying.
I don't want to be too harsh, though, because you could absolutely see the group's potential in this project. Tribe touches on plenty of interesting (and occasionally humorous) subjects, and young Q-Tip sounds pretty capable on the mic, even if his demeanor could be characterized as rather bland.
As for young Phife Dawg, there isn't enough of a sample size here to judge him. He only raps on four songs, and that is just stupid.
The main problem on People's Instinctive Travels is the beats. Ali Shaheed Muhammad was still on the come-up then, so he definitely deserves a pass, especially considering what the man was able to do on Tribe's subsequent albums. That being said, Ali's production on the group's first LP was very inconsistent and, sometimes, a bit infantile.
People's Instinctive Travels isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, and it was actually a bit ahead of its time. There wasn't a lot of hip-hop that sounded like this back in 1990. Still, this project simply pales in comparison to the trio's later work. It may be a bit unfair to hold it to that type of standard, but hey; that's the way things go.
1. Bonita Applebum
3. Go Ahead In The Rain
4. I Left My Wallet In El Segundo
5. Push It Along