In 1990, four kids from Queens (Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Jarobi White) changed hip-hop forever. Throughout the record they zig-zag between the observational, the enlightened and the anecdotal. Odes to youth are sprinkled throughout the album. The Latin-spiced I Left My Wallet In El Segundo and the sweet infatuation of Bonita Applebum. The more illuminated tracks, Push It Along, Youthful Expression and Footprints sit happily alongside the serious (and not so serious) life lessons of Description of a Fool, Pubic Enemy and Ham N Eggs.
While a lot of hip-hop was stuck in macho posturing, Tribe were getting down to beats with a lot of flavour, asking Can I Kick It? (yes you can). Lifted and grounded at the same time. Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s sampling is warm, fresh and experimental. Often cited as the seminal jazz hip-hop record but Muhammad’s use of soul, gospel and rock (just look what he did with Lou Reed’s Walk On The Wild Side) is beautiful. Instantly recognisable grooves that would later be replicated by DJ Premier (on Illmatic and with Gang Starr), Kanye West and plenty more.
Jarobi White failed to make another album with A Tribe Called Quest, but Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and Muhammad would go on to change the face of music, setting out the pathway for underground hip-hop, 90s boom-bap and neo-soul.
They are the sonic counterpart to a Keith Haring chalk outline. Their energy is infectious and above all fun. Armed with no hubris, just open arms, a youthful exuberance and a sound for all ages, races and boroughs of New York.
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