A Tribe Called Quest: Pioneers of Jazz Rap

ChillIn 1985, a hip-hop group called A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ) formed in Queens, New York. It was composed of rappers Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and was active from 1990 to 1998. During that time, it released five albums, which included: “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm” (1990), “The Low End Theory” (1991), “Midnight Marauders” (1993), “Beats, Rhymes and Life” (1996) and “The Love Movement” (1998).

Along with another hip-hop group, De La Soul, ATCQ pioneered the mixture of jazz and hip-hop, which has unsurprisingly turned into a separate genre called jazz rap. ATCQ was a part of the hip-hop collective Native Tongues, who were committed to advocating more positive imagery and messages, as opposed to much of the violent messages, imagery or storytelling often found in hip-hop at the time. Their first three albums are my favorite, as they evoke a chill vibe, mix jazz with hip-hop, and are excellent examples of poetry.

ATCQ’s first album, “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm,” had little mainstream appeal, but was critically well-received and garnered a close following. It produced “Bonita Applebum” and “Can I Kick It?” which are typically considered classics. The album consisted of songs that contained interesting and humorous lyrics that were more fun in nature. The song “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” embodies this carefree vibe, as it chronicles a lengthy road trip that culminates in Q-Tip losing his wallet in a faraway city. Likewise, the song “Rhythm (Devoted to the Art of Moving Butts)” has a chilled vibe that also embodies a carefree vibe paying homage to the rhythms of hip-hop.

The next album, “The Low End Theory,” more emphatically linked jazz and hip-hop together. It particularly highlighted the bass, a low pitched string instrument often used in jazz. This link between the two genres allowed for a noticeable enjoyment between older generations — who favored jazz — and the younger generation, which favored hip-hop. The song “Excursions” demonstrates the heightened influence of the bass in the formation of their beats. It also features the saxophone, further showing the influence of jazz on their sound. The lyrics in general paid homage to hip-hop music and culture. The song “Scenario” is one of the hits produced from the album. It has a more freestyle feel to it, and features an up-and-coming Busta Rhymes, who became more well-known after his appearance.

“Midnight Marauders” was another classic jazz rap album. It reached platinum status quicker than any of their other albums. The hit song “Electric Relaxation” appeared on this album. It features a chilled, hypnotic guitar-oriented beat. The lyrics largely centered on women. The song “We Can Get Down” features exceptional poetry. They discuss their criticism of newer hip-hop artists, yet express optimism toward the genre’s future.

Finally, “Beats, Rhymes and Life” was made around the time of the contentious east coast-west coast feud. Its style shifted to a very simplistic sound, with a basic boom bap providing for most of the beats. Due to the simplistic nature of the beats, there needed to be a focus on the lyricism, and of course they compensated brilliantly. Their hit single “1nce Again” demonstrates their excellent lyricism.

A Tribe Called Quest was a revolutionary hip-hop group that pioneered a jazz rap genre that produced chill vibes and appealed to audiences of all ages. Some music critics have called them “the most creative and intelligent hip-hop group of the 1990s.” They, along with the other groups in the Native Tongues collective, provided a refreshing change to positive messages and vibes in the hip-hop community.

1 Comment

  1. Tribe came to the campus in 98. When they released The Love Movement and when they were in the middle of breaking up. They did one of their last concerts at Witt. Whch is wild. But they knew where they were. After two songs, they stopped and Q-Tip told the audience that they would take any request, as long as it was not a single that had been played on the radio. The silence was heavy. I realized I wasn’t a true fan. Now I can yell out a bunch of songs. 18 years too late.

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