A Tribe Called Quest Biography

This US male rap outfit originally comprised Q-Tip (Jonathan Davis, 10 April 1970, Brooklyn, New York City, New York, USA), DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad (b. 11 August 1970, Brooklyn, New York City, New York, USA), Jarobi and Phife Dog (b. Malik Taylor, Brooklyn, New York City, New York, USA). They formed at school in Manhattan, New York, where they started out as part of the Native Tongues Posse, with Queen Latifah and the Jungle Brothers, and were given their name by Afrika Baby Bambaataa of the Jungle Brothers. Following their August 1989 debut, ‘Description Of A Fool’, they had a hit with ‘Bonita Applebum’ a year later, which was apparently based on a real person from their school. Their biggest success came the following year with the laid-back ‘Can I Kick It?’, typical of their refined jazz/hip-hop cross-match. A UK Top 20 single, it was later used extensively in television advertisements. Q-Tip also appeared on Deee-Lite’s August 1990 hit, ‘Groove Is In The Heart’. As members of the Native Tongues Posse they were promoters of the Afrocentricity movement, which set out to make US Africans aware of their heritage, a theme emphasized in the group’s music.

While A Tribe Called Quest’s debut album, People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm, was more eclectic, and even self-consciously jokey, The Low-End Theory (recorded as a trio following the departure of Jarobi) saw them return to their roots with a more bracing, harder funk sound. They were helped considerably by jazz bass player Ron Carter (who had worked with Miles Davis and John Coltrane), whose contribution rather dominated proceedings. Tracks such as ‘The Infamous Date Rape’ stoked controversy, while samples from Lou Reed, Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind And Fire were used in a frugal and intelligent manner. By 1993’s Midnight Marauders there were allusions to the rise of gangsta rap, although they maintained the optimism predominant on their debut. Q-Tip appeared in the movie Poetic Justice opposite Janet Jackson, and helped to produce Tony! Toni! Toné! (whose Raphael Wiggins made an appearance on Midnight Marauders), Nas, Shyheim and labelmate Shaquille O’Neal. They were rewarded with the Group Of The Year category at the inaugural Source Magazine Hip Hop Award Show in 1994, before being pulled off the stage by the arrival of 2Pac and his Thug Life crew, attempting to steal some publicity.

Two years elapsed before Beats, Rhymes And Life debuted at number 1 on the Billboard album chart. The group’s lyrics on this album were highly evolved, addressing issues with greater philosophy than the crude banter of their past recordings. Q-Tip’s conversion to the Islamic faith may have had some bearing on this style. The Love Movement, which debuted at US number 3 in October 1998, was another mature, stylish collection of material that lacked the spark of their earlier work. It proved to be their final recording as the individual members elected to concentrate on solo work.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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