“Can I kick it?!”
On Nov. 13, 2015, in honor of the 25th anniversary for their debut album "People’s Instinctive Travels & the Paths of Rhythm," a giddy Jimmy Fallon introduced Q-Tip, Phife, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, otherwise known as A Tribe Called Quest. Performing for the first time since their “allegedly” last gig on Kanye West’s "Yeezus" tour, the Tribe played perhaps their biggest classic ever: “Can I Kick It?” The performance was beautiful. It was watching Jordan crossover, Shakespeare pen a poem, Van Gogh paint a portrait. Even though the group has been broken up for over 15 years now, Q-Tip and Phife bounced off of each other lyrically on "Fallon" like nothing has changed. They reminded the world why they are some of the true masters in the art of hip-hop. Not only are they talented, but the group changed the course of rap as much as anyone in the 1990s. Twenty-five years later, we still have so much to thank Tribe for.
Lead by the dynamic duo of MC’s Q-Tip and Phife with DJ Ali providing beats, A Tribe Called Quest hailed from Queens, New York. Tribe arose in a time where hip-hop was divided in two. As Dr. Dre explained in an interview regarding the influence of ATCQ, the early 1990s was one of the most heated, tense periods for the East-West coast divide in rap. “You had what was going on in the West with the gangsta rap, and then you had New York with the flashy rap, battle rap.” However, Tribe brought a new sound to the rap game, something that appealed to everyone. As Dre says: “Tribe was just about life.” Songs like “Everything is Fair” touched on social issues like NWA was in the West, while hits such as “Buggin’ Out” brought East Coast lyricism. ATCQ appealed to both sides of the aisle, something that was hard to come by in the 1990s.
Not only did Tribe borrow cues from both sides of the country, they also created a whole new unique sound for themselves. Backed by the genius production of Ali Shaheed, the group incorporated jazz along with multi-layered samples in ways that had never been seen before. It was an incredible, fun sound that distinguished Tribe from the countless other rap groups in the early '90s.
These type of creative, lively beats would pave the way for countless hip-hop artists growing up on Tribe; most notably Kanye West ("Late Registration’s" jazzy vibes and sampling were no doubt inspired by DJ Ali’s production). Other artists such as Pharrell Williams, someone who has his hand in almost all pop music today, speaks of the Tribe with the utmost respect: “myself… J-Dilla, who’s without question one of the illest beat makers ever, Kanye, we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the Tribe albums.” Other members of the Tribe family tree include Tyler, The Creator—whose goofy demeanor often distracts people from his incredible musical knowledge and talent, Kendrick Lamar--who’s modern classic "To Pimp a Butterfly" featured a heavy jazz influence, and J Cole—who counts the Tribe as one of his largest inspirations, sampling and remixing several of their songs. It’s clear to see how today’s sound of hip-hop takes quite the pull from the Tribe’s vibes.
However, maybe more important than all of the above is the fact that after 25 years of aging, A Tribe Called Quest still bumps. This group screams '90s, but never feels outdated. Sure, you can listen to Tribe to study the genius production of Ali Shaheed. You can listen to them to hear the perfection of the rap duo by Q-Tip and Phife that so many other groups have tried and fallen short of. You can listen to them for a nostalgia trip, and see how hip-hop has changed over the past two decades. But most of all, you can listen to A Tribe Called Quest because they are just so, so good. They are simply one of the most fun music groups I have ever heard. “Can I Kick It?” is without a doubt one of my favorite songs of all time. The opening lines of “Buggin’ Out” put a smile on my face from the first beat. “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” is one of the most goofy songs with a catchy beat to back it. I could go on and on, the Tribe delivers hits after hits on their three major albums. Not to mention "Ham 'N' Eggs"—a song that is literally about Tribe not eating ham and eggs…because they are high in cholesterol. No metaphor for sex or drugs, just a group trying to teach kids about the benefits of a healthy diet. How can you not love this group?
So for bringing together a culture divided, for their unprecedented influence on the hip-hop we love today, and for the countless hours of enjoyment gifted to us through their discography: thank you, A Tribe Called Quest. I hope you continue to lie about your “last show” like any great artist does. And to answer the question…