The Rundown: The Best Of A Tribe Called Quest

Above: A Tribe Called Quest
Above: A Tribe Called Quest

A Tribe Called Quest are one of the best hip hop acts of all-time; anyone that debates this is crazy. The combination of Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and Ali Shaheed Muhammad (plus with Jarobi on the first album) was as potent and powerful as any act in the business during its heyday.

There first three albums – People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders – created a tetra-pack of albums that presented a different take on what was largely being said and sonically delivered in hip hop at the time.

It eventually fell apart (as it often does) and the members went their different ways, reuniting for some tour dates (as detailed in the phenomenal documentary Beats, Rhymes and Life), but a full-fledged return from here on out isn’t in the cards.

Thankfully, we have their outstanding catalogue to carry us through and on the 25-year anniversary (man I’m old) of People’s Instinctive Travels, here’s a collection of some of the best from A Tribe Called Quest.

Footprints

I’m a sucker for “Sir Duke,” so when you drop that right off the top, you’ve got me hooked. And then you add Q-Tip’s smoothness on top of a laid back beat? As much as I enjoy a lot of the singles that were released, there is something about an album cut that not everyone else is into that just makes it that much more special.

Bonita Applebum

“Hey Bonita – glad to meet’cha.” Tip’s smooth opening line was different than the traditional flow everyone was used to at the time. There was a mellow element to the song and his deliver that made it stand out from the pack and became the entry point for a lot of people’s love of Tribe and the rest of the Native Tongues collective.

Can I Kick It

From the “Walk on the Wildside” sample to the call-and-answer before each verse, it as easy to fall in with “Can I Kick It” and it still holds up to this day. This is one of those classic Tribe cuts that showcases what was so great about this group – infectious samples and verse from Phife and Tip that were different, but still bended  – and you can’t have a list of the best from these boys without including this song.

Excursions

That baseline. That opening verse from Tip that just keeps going. The introduction of the drums into the song. It’s all just perfect. The opening cut from The Low End Theory made it clear that Tribe wasn’t playing around on Album #2.

Buggin’ Out

If “Excursion” was a showcase of what Q-Tip did so well on the mic, this was Phife’s moment in the sun to show that he was an equal to “The Abstract” and not the Boy Wonder to his Dark Knight. “Yo – microphone check, one-two, what is this?” is still one of those opening lines that hip hop heads would know right away like if  they were sitting in the park playing “Name the song” like Sid and Dre in Brown Sugar.

Check the Rhime

It’s just so good. Going back to the call-and-answer verse setup and featuring a catchy horn sample, this might have been the group’s most universally beloved track. Everyone likes it, with good reason.

Scenario (ft. Leaders of the New School)

One of the greatest posse cuts of all-time, this one gave us so much: a classic video, Phife’s “Bo knows this” kick-off, Charlie Brown’s “North Cacalacka and Compton” and Busta Rhymes blowing up all over this track to close things out. It’s musical magic that holds up 20-plus years later.

Award Tour

With Trugoy of De La Soul calling out stops on the chorus and one of those classic “can’t get it out of your head” beats, this was Tribe’s highest charting single, reaching No. 1 on the U.S. Hot Dance charts and topping out at No. 7 on the Hot Rap Singles chart.

Electric Relaxation

It’s like people suddenly figured out that ATCQ were making amazing music on Midnight Marauders because after the success of “Award Tour,” this track experiences success on the Hot Dance charts as well. It’s one of the best back-and-forth blends between Tip and Phife too, where they share verses rather than running through their own bars straight.

Oh My God

This was the height of everything great that Tribe was and could have kept being because they were slick enough as a crew to stand out on their own and then you could take it to another level by dropping Busta Rhymes – then the king of cameos before dropping his solo debut – in for the chorus.

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte is a freelance journalist based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, where he lives with his wife and dog. In addition to his work here, he writes about sports for Complex Canada and covers the UFC for various outlets. His mom also still tells him what to do on a regular basis, even though he’s nearly 40. He tweets from @spencerkyte.

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