The bohemian and carefree philosophy of A Tribe Called Quest

The bohemian and carefree philosophy of A Tribe Called Quest

“People Instinctive’s Travels and The Path of Rhythm”, the Daisy Age imprint

Jive / RCA, 1990

The break with the classic image of the rapper

In Hip Hop, it was necessary to have an image of a “tough guy”, otherwise the music didn’t seem real, with a dose of boasting to impress the competition, or simply the listeners. The Daisy Age will redefine this image of the rapper. De La Soul has already refuted this with his song Me Myself and I on 3 Feet High and Rising, where the three rappers even reject the attire and attitude as usual Hip Hoppers. As the founder of the Daisy Age, De La Soul will breathe a wind of innocence into Hip Hop with a form of childish carefreeness.

A Tribe Called Quest is going to fit directly into this philosophy, at least for this first album. Actually, De La Soul are the big brothers of the band, they formed the Native Tongues together with the Jungle Brothers, but Q-Tip was strongly inspired by 3 Feet High and Rising, for which he attended all the recording sessions.

The quartet consists of rapper/producer Q-Tip, de facto leader of the group, DJ and producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad, as well as the two rappers Phife Dawg and Jerobi White, although their respective roles are much more limited here. Just as De La Soul did a year before them, A Tribe Called Quest will bring all their positive energy, carefree attitude and determination to Hip Hop with one goal: to entertain.

Behind De La Soul’s false candor, there was definitely a social message lurking. To say that People Instinctive’s Travels and The Path of Rhythm is devoid of a social and political message would be a strong exaggeration, but that message is much more buried here, much less emphasized. The various allusions are more scattered with the primary objective being to make people dance and have fun.

A bohemian and relaxed attitude

Let’s drop the comparisons and take this album for what it is. The three rappers, and mainly Q-Tip, don’t take themselves seriously. Their attitudes are all the more cool and relaxed, ultimately very bohemian, as their philosophy and thinking, while being remarkably natural. This way of being sticks to their skin, they do not play a character. They swing their calm flows with a casual and relaxed, a happy and positive Hip Hop. They do what they have to do.

If Q-Tip is the leader of the group, he is omnipresent in the album, with Phife and Jerobi who are very much in the background, they are also absent from the credits on the album cover. Phife has four verses while Jerobi is only given a simple interlude. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, we never had the opportunity to hear Jerobi rap, so it is difficult to say if his absence is regrettable, he will indeed leave the group after this album to devote himself to cooking. On the other hand, it is perhaps more regrettable for Phife, who brings an attractive alternative to the voice of Q-Tip. Q-Tip is obviously an exceptional rapper, but the chemistry that the duo is able to have can bring a lot, we can see it in the way they answer each other on Ham’N’Eggs, unfortunately the only track to present this answer game on this album, and we will see it even more on The Low End Therory. And in the very relaxed attitude of this album, such an chemistry could have brought a lot.

The carelessness of the Daisy Age

Naturally, the lyrics flow from this carefree attitude, even if a little social message might pop up, they always remain on a humorous and casual tone. The two rappers are not here to complain or basically criticize, they want to entertain and make people dance with lyrics that are as carefree as their attitude. Q-Tip has this ability to tell stories that are unimportant, aimless, but always entertaining. Q-Tip’s writing is infectious, with clever wordplay and rhymes, without too much complexity so as not to deviate from the original goal of entertaining. Push It Along is probably the best example and instantly lifts the mood.

Luck Of Lucien also falls into this category, Tip is a little comic with his song dedicated to his French friend Lucien Revolucien, a.k.a. Papalu. On I Left My Wallet in El Segundo, Tip tells his misadventures during his vacations always with a lot of humor. Slightly more conscious but still treated with a lot of lightness, Public Enemy tackles sexually transmitted diseases before continuing with an ubiquitous love story for the most known and recognized anthem of the group, Bonita Applebum. As the name suggests, Youthful Expression is a message to youth about the importance of voting and the power of politics while Description of a Fool condemns violence.

Recognizable melodies beautifully blended

Listening to People Instinctive’s Travels and The Path of Rhythm, one realizes that the album works mainly on recognizable melodies. Co-produced by Q-Tip and Ali, the sampling work is remarkable, but beyond the samples used, it is also the mixing and the sequencing of the samples that are exceptional. Ali realized here a prodigious work of assembly.

Luck Of Lucien is based on a loop of Fourty Days by Billy Books in which he takes elements and assembles them beautifully. Push It Along uses a saxophone sample by Grover Washington, Jr. placed at strategic points of the song while it works mostly on a drum beat. Footprints starts on a loop of Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke before continuing on a sample of Donald Byrd’s Think Twice. Mr. Muhammed works on a combination of samples from the two iconic Funk Boogie bands with a vocal from Earth, Wind & Fire’s Brazilian Rhyme and an electronic loop from Kool & The Gang’s Electric Frog. We also find an amazing electric guitar cover of Nappy Dogout by Funkadelic on Ham’N’Eggs to bring a psychedelic Funk/Rock touch.

Bonita Applebum’s rhythm is uniquely smooth, remarkably light, yet delicate and soothing. It works with two intertwined riffs, one taken from Rotary Connection’s Memory Band with notably the “La La La” sung by a female voice and the other taken from RAMP’s Daylight.

The musical landscape of the album is fundamentally rooted in Funk and Jazz, and that’s the beauty of People Instinctive’s Travels and The Path of Rhythm, the rhythms are infectious and work perfectly stitched together layered with raw drum beats. They oscillate easily between Funk and Jazz, and more rarely Rock, for an eclectic palette of samples while respecting a coherent background.

People Instinctive’s Travels and The Path of Rhythm is too often forgotten in favor of its little brother released one year later. If one must admit that The Low End Theory presents more the soul of the musicality of A Tribe Called Quest with its jazzy atmosphere and its minimalist sound footprint, the first album of the group shines by its musicality and its innocence. It is indeed an extension of the Daisy Age philosophy instilled by De La Soul, and in that sense it is close to 3 Feet High and Rising in some aspects, but it is nonetheless a remarkable album before the band forged a more personal identity, with a jazzier soundscape and lyrics that are both more philosophical and Afro-centric. Don’t sleep on this album, take the path of rhythm and trust your instincts on this travel with A Tribe Called Quest.

By Grégoire Zasa

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s