In the 25 years since the release of A Tribe Called Quest’s seminal debut album A People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, the hip-hop world has evolved considerably, and tracing the group’s influence on modern hip-hop would be an undertaking of Biblical proportions.

As members of The Native Tongues, a collective of ‘80s and ‘90s hip-hop artists known for Afrocentric messages and the innovative sampling of jazz, A Tribe Called Quest created an entirely new form of hip-hop. De la Soul, another group associated with The Native Tongues, were in many ways responsible for the rise of Tribe. Making appearances on tracks raised their profile, and Tribe gained respect and admiration from around the hip-hop community and the record industry.

In 1993, Tribe hit the mainstream with their third release Midnight Marauders. Their fan base had been growing and the highly anticipated album cracked the US Top Ten. What people noticed, and what had become abundantly clear, is that the Queens, N.Y. natives had a confidence and a conscience that we had never heard in rap before.

And it all started with their landmark debut. Along with De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising and The Pharcyde’s Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde, A Tribe Called Quest’s first album is considered one of the cornerstones of the alternative hip-hop movement. From these, a new hip-hop movement was born. Without Tribe, we most likely wouldn’t have artists like Mos Def or Talib Kweli, or their duo Black Star. These are artists who in their own right have carved out names for themselves using the playful lyrical style and political messages Tribe and other Native Tongues members cultivated. By the ‘90s and early 00’s, a new generation of musicians took their cues from Tribe. MF DOOM, Atmosphere and Aesop Rock all emerged as their disciples. Through these and other cross-over artists like Outkast and Kanye West, alternative hip-hop was reborn, and the legacy Tribe had created lived on.

Their funky jazz beats and self-aware, adventurous lyrics became the sound of a generation of hip-hop fans, and this innovative style became their legacy to the hip hop community. Unlike so much hip-hop, certainly today and when Tribe where starting out, there isn’t the grandiose posturing of egos or the expressions of over-indulgence. Q-Tip is a philosopher and comedian; his rhymes touch on STDs, favorite food, progressive politics, teenage experiences and genuine love.

Ultimately, A People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm has to be taken on its own terms in 2015, and we’re lucky to have such a beautiful reissue to rediscover the bedrock hip-hop is built upon today. Sonically, the album has a new crispness, and listening to it gives you a sense of connection to the past. However, in either a move to sell more copies or an effort at cross-promotion, there are three tacked-on remixes from CeeLo Green, Pharrell Williams and J. Cole. Unfortunately, the remixes feel forced, and none of them are particularly interesting or necessary.

What makes this album as released such a pioneering work is the lyrical depth and the vast, eclectic topics that Q-tip and Phife confront. One of their most popular songs, “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” is a funny, straightforward story of teenage rebellion. It’s an authentic track that is as silly as it is inventive. In the same sort vein of goofy, playful tracks, “Ham n’ Eggs” is all about what Q-Tip and Phife like to eat. Both tracks demonstrate Tribe’s ability to create artful, catchy music out of any subject.

On the other side of the thematic coin, “Youth Expression” is a politically charged, inspirational track that engages with the young generation. Jarobi White, in the interlude, raps, “But the youth about to come back.” As well, Q-tip offers a glimpse into his politics and his thinking: “Afrocentric, I’m electric/ Socialistic and eccentric… Politicians are magicians/ Make your vote, they hope you’re wishin’/ Ambiguous words, senseless verbs/ They all amount to crap that’s heard.”

“Bonita Applebum,” a song about a beautiful woman, doesn’t come across as oppressive or exploitative. Rather, it’s a tender and authentic look into teenage love and respect; Q-Tip’s awkward bravado and his want to respect women is central to the thrust of the track. At the same time, Q-Tip can’t escape his joking nature with lines like: “Only you and me, hun, the love never dies/ Satisfaction, I have the right tactics/ And if you need ‘em, I got crazy prophylactics.”

Not only is A People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm a revolutionary album full of good-natured energy and experimental sounds, it contains some of A Tribe Called Quest’s most famous and probably best songs. “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo,” Bonita Applebum” and “Can I Kick It?” are the group’s signature tracks and ones that any fan knows all the lyrics to. Their debut album continues to be a totem of early ‘90s hip-hop and a pivotal point in the expansion of the boundaries of the still growing genre. Now we have a stunning and crisp reissue of an album that is as relevant today as it was when it was first released.

  • Top 20 Albums of 2016

    These are the 20 best albums of the year. …
  • Fleet Foxes: Shore

    After the dense and solemn Crack-Up, Robin Pecknold returns the Fleet Foxes to their roots…
  • Revisit: Donna Summer: The Wanderer

    A beginning, middle and end, this may not be Summer’s strongest album, but it contains all…
  • Hen Ogledd: Free Humans

    This is a lot of trebly, upbeat music to stomach in one sitting, but Hen Ogledd has evolve…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

The Beauty: by Jane Hirshfield

The poems in The Beauty become more mystical the more you read them, slowly becoming incan…