With the release of the Michael Rapaport-directed documentary film Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest, many have been pleasantly reminded of just how groundbreaking and influential Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad—and Jarobi, too—were to Hip-Hop music and culture. The DNA of the group and their Native Tongues cohorts can still be found in today’s biggest hip-hop artists, from Kanye West to Odd Future to, yes, Lupe Fiasco. Tribe’s innovative sampling, slick wordplay and underground to commercial bridging appeal made them eternal fan favorites, despite their last official album being released 13 years ago. Picking thirty of the best A Tribe Called Quest songs is impossible, but worth trying anyway.—Alvin "Aqua Boogie" Blanco and Carl Chery
Push It Along
Though it marks an earlier stage in Tribe’s evolution, this track still holds up in Tribe’s catalog.
“Buggin’ Out” may have been Phife Dawg’s coming out party, but on “Butter” the 5 Foot assassin proved he could hold the fort down without the Abstract rhyming by his side, if need be.
Critics may have panned Beats, Rhymes & Life, but with the late Jay Dee/J. Dilla helping with the beats, it’s time you revisit. Start with “1nce Again.”
“Jake be getting illy when the sun get dark, he be coming out for heads but chill, don’t let me start,” spits Q-Tip, effortlessly weaving a tale about a night filled with gambling, partying, crooked cops, and more.
Following what many consider to be Tribe’s worst output, Beats, Rhymes and Life, this lead single showed that the legendary group still had plenty left in the tank.
Jazz giant Ron Carter on the bass with the funky singing by Ms. Vinia Mojica, official chanteuse of the Native Tongue.
One of the finest displays of Tip’s knack for conveying a message without coming off preachy.
Can you really lose with a choice Biz Markie sample? Tip and Phife come through with the breezy wordplay to make the cipher complete.
How does a 19-year-old kid from Queens have enough insight to pen a tale about a down-on-his luck Parisian? Only Tip, with inspiration from the real life Lucien.
Admit it, you could listen to Busta Rhymes roaring “Oh my God yes, oh my God,” all day, every day.
Cypress Hill flipped the same Grant Green sample on “Stoned is the Way of the Walk” about a month prior to hearing Tribe’s. Close, but we’re giving the edge to the crew from Queens.
Titled after the famed South African apartheid activist, this opening song set the tone for arguably Tribe’s most cohesive listen yet.
Tribe, Diamond D and half of Brand Nubian on the same track? Nuff said. “You don’t wanna make a Pitch that’s Wild.” Get it.
A choice album cuts from the group’s debut, “Footprints” utilizes a sample of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” and Donald Byrd’s “Think Twice” along with their trademark thumping drums to create this standout album cut.
Tip’s storytelling skills take front and center as he weaves “8 Million Stories” into one. Shout out to Ali Shaheed Muhammad with the fruit punch.
God Lives Through
Q-Tip and Phife Dawg put the capstone on the Midnight Marauders with a pair of flawless verses that essentially stamp the album a classic.
Perhaps Tribe’s most blatant contribution to hip-hop and jazz fusion, this horn-laced single smoothly delivered a laid back vibe that was anything but soft.
Any thought of a sophomore jinx was null and void when the bass kicks in and Q-Tip starts ripping rhymes in this opening track. The Low End Theory arrived, with a sonic kick to your face.
Lyrics to Go
Q-Tip chopped and looped up a Minnie Riperton sample (“Inside My Love”) to perfection for him and Phife to lyrically explain why they were hip-hop’s dynamic duo.
“Microphone check one two, what is this?,” spit Phife Dawg on his opening verse. And just like that the Five Footer had graduated from being Tip’s sidekick to arguably outshining him on this Low End standout.
Every couple of years a debate about the continued use of the N-word is sparked. Back in 1993, the Abstract Poetic eloquently explained its controversy and why it’s used as a “term of endearment” lyrically.
The album version was cool, but check for the video version a.k.a. the “Spirit Mix.” Funky. Hey, even Jay-Z liked it (see: “22 Twos”)
The Boomerang Soundtrack was forgettable, but it at least offered Quest fans a bonus track not found on their albums; dropping after Low End Theory and before Midnight Marauders.
Topping the original was a quasi-impossible feat, but this remix came damn close. Initially released as the B-side of the “Scenario” single it later landed on The Love Movement in 1998.
A Top 5 track on any true Tribe fan’s list, the Weldon Irvine sampling, Dave of De La Soul assisted jam was the lead single to Tribe’s triumphant third album. Do that, do that, do, do, that, that, that!
Tribe’s first hit single, “Bonita Applebum” has been referenced by everyone from Lil Wayne to Black Eyed Peas and sampled by The Fugees, just to name a few. 38, 24, 37, indeed.
For those of you still making up their own words to the chorus, it’s, “Relax yourself girl, please settle down.” Shout out to Seaman’s furniture and Phife’s double entendres.
The lead single to Tribe’s classic sophomore set, “Check the Rhime” features Phife and Tip’s seamless chemistry over a sped up loop of Minnie Ripperton’s “Baby This Love I Have,” but is mostly easily remembered for the Abstract’s iconic line: “Industry rule no. 4080, record company people are shaddyyyyyyy.”
A Tribe Called Quest asserting themselves as one of hip-hop’s best groups then invite young upstarts Leaders of the New School to get down on a track. The result is “The Scenario,” easily hip-hop’s greatest posse cut, ever.
Filed Under: A Tribe Called Quest, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, beats, Brand Nubian, Busta Rhymes, Diamond D, Gallery, J Dilla, Jarobi, leaders of the new school, Lord Jamar, Michael Rapaport, Midnight Marauders, People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, Phife Dawg, Q-Tip, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, Sadat X, The Low End Theory, Vinia Mojica