Time Span Between First Five Albums: Six Years
There's a reason OutKast and Kanye West idolize A Tribe Called Quest. Prior to releasing 1996's Beats, Rhymes and Life, the Queens trio had become hip-hop's model for excellence—having launched their career with three consecutive classics that all earned gold and platinum certifications. Tribe was also influential. Along with Gang Starr, Pete Rock and others, Q-Tip was instrumental in popularizing hip-hop and jazz fusion. Though their later albums weren't as well received, they gave a platform to the late, great producer J Dilla, as he was a driving force in the Ummah production collective alongside Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and occasional contributors, Raphael Saadiq and D' Angelo. Here's a look at Quest's entire catalog.
_________________________With apologies to De La Soul, five is the magic number. It’s usually the amount of albums in a standard record deal, but few MCs ever fulfill their contractual obligations with as much aplomb as they started. Whether an artist peaks early or late, staying consistent over the duration of five albums has proven challenging no matter the era in hip-hop. XXLmag.com decided to rank the best first-five album runs in hip-hop history (First 5). A new act and their ranking will be revealed each day of the week throughout the month of October and the Top 5 will be revealed on November 5th. Get in on the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #XXLFirst5.
1. People's Instictive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990)
Release Date: April 77, 1990
Tribe was initially part bohemian—like their Native Tongues brethren, De La Soul—with a touch of everyman sensibility added on. Labeled alternative hip-hop at the time, their 1990 debut, People’s Instinctive Travels on the Paths of Rhythm spawned classic singles like “Bonita Applebum,” “Can I Kick It?” and gems like “Luck of Lucien” and “Push It Along.” Tip was a renaissance man years before his third solo effort—kicking progressive, yet relatable raps and infusing the LP’s production with samples as varied as the Beattles’ “All You Need Is Love,” Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” as well as Donald Byrd’s “Think Twice” and Roy Ayers’ “No Deposit, No Return.” Phife Dawg played sidekick at the time, contributing background vocals and lacing verses on occasion. People was an instant classic and revered by critics, but it wouldn’t earn a gold certification until six years later.
2. The Low End Theory (1991)
Release Date: September 24, 1991
No sophomore jinx, here. Though People was heralded as a classic upon release, Q-Tip’s on record saying that he preached a sense of desperation during the The Low End Theory’s recording sessions. It worked. Phife delivered under pressure and emerged as a lyrical force in his own right. He even had a standout solo track of his own in “Butter.” Honing in on a penchant for clever punchlines, the five foot assassin went as far as besting Q-Tip on several tracks. On production, Tribe further experimented with hip-hop and jazz fusion, but added a bit more of a funky edge for good measure. The LP was immediately more celebrated than their debut, only this time it also achieve platinum status.
3. Midnight Marauders (1993)
Release Date: November 9, 1993
Tribe’s part of a very select group to have kick-started their career with three classic LPs. Midnight Marauders picked up where Low End Theory and on any given day— according to Tribe faithfuls—may or may not be better than its predecessor. One typically edges out the other based on personal relatability, not the music itself. Phife’s punchlines proved even sharper: “Bust on your couch, now you got Seaman’s furniture,” he rhymed on “Electric Relaxation.” The sound grew more polished and distinct. Moreso than People and Low End, MM’s sonics have become synonymous with Tribe. It’s a perfect marriage between jazz, soul and funk with a futuristic twist. It’s the sound found in the DNA of influential boardsmen like Questlove, J Dilla, Kanye West, Hi-Tek, 9th Wonder, Madlib and even The Neptunes, just to name a few. MM is truly a musical journey—Tribe’s most cohesive body of work. The Midnight Marauders tour guide—played by a robotized, yet soothing Laurel Dann—provides interludes in between stellar cuts like, “Sucka Nigga,” “Award Tour,” “Oh My God” and “Lyrics to Go.” The LP earned Tribe its second consecutive platinum plaque and made the group hip-hop’s new standard in consistency at the time.
4. Beats, Rhymes and Life (1996)
Release Date: July 30, 1996
What a difference three years make. Phife was now living in Atlanta and Tip still in New York. The inclusion of Consequence—though a gifted MC—didn’t do much to improve the longtime partners-in-rhymes’ diminishing chemistry. The rhymes were uninspired, and the concepts unusually generic. The album’s most memorable for being the late great J Dilla’s launching pad. The Detroit producer was fresh off standout contributions to The Pharcyde’s Labcabincalifornia and would go on to have an influential career producing for everyone from Janet Jackson to Erykah Badu, D’ Angelo to Common, in the wake of Beats’s gold success.
5. The Love Movement (1998)
Release Date: September 29, 1998
ATCQ had clearly run its course by 1998. Still, Tip, Phife and Ali delivered the swan song that was The Love Movement. Though it fell short from the bar Tribe set with their early works, the LP did offer some highlights that Quest-enthusiasts deem worthy of the group’s mighty catalog. The LP’s lead single, “Find a Way” and “Busta’s Lament” were the closest the duo came to duplicating “Check the Rhime”-like chemistry since the early ‘90s. But, Quest fared best when paired up with other MCs—collaborating with Mos Def, Punchline, Wordsworth and Jane Doe on “Rock Rock Y’all” and Busta Rhymes and Redman on “Steppin’ It Up.” It wasn't vintage Tribe, but at least the kids from Queens went out on a higher note.