Beats Rhymes & Life: Getting Reacquainted With A Tribe Called Quest

Here is a little known fact about me:  I used to rap.  I am not kidding.  I have performed spoken word readings and I have also rapped onstage.  In addition to my obsessions about Depeche Mode and 80’s alternative, I also loved hip-hop druing the 80’s and 90’s.  Being a poet, it was natural that I gravitated towards spoken word, which is what made me gravitate towards rap.  My groups of choice were a part of the Native Tongues collective:  De La Soul, Black Sheep, Queen Latifa, Monie Love, Jungle Brothers and of course, A Tribe Called Quest.  Of the groups just mentioned, I’ve only had the pleasure of seeing De La Soul and Queen Latifa in concert.  My friend Eileen and I followed Queen Latifa and Monie Love, and even called our little crew Ladies First (after Queen Latifa’s hit with Monie Love).  I also was a big fan of TLC and especially Left Eye.  Left Eye and Monie Love had very similar quick paced style of rap, which I emulated in my own style. 

(Side note, here is a list of other rap artists I’ve either met or have seen perform live:  Kurtis Blow, Young MC, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Big Daddy Kane, Kid n Play, Public Enemy, KRS-1, Cypress Hill, Beastie Boys, House of Pain, Das EFX & Digital Underground when Tu Pac was still in the group.)

A Tribe Called Quest has remained one of my favorite rap groups.  No matter what’s out on the charts right now, I will always go back and listen to People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm and Low End Theory.  I can sit there and groove with my headphones on, or really have fun dancing to those songs at a club.   The hooks are catchy, the rhymes are intelligent and the message is always positive.  When someone would say “Remember back in the day?” I would recite one of my favorite lines from Low End Theory’s “Excursions”: Back in the days when I was a teenager/before I had status/and before I had a pager because it’s just so clever.  To this day when my husband plays any hip-hop in a DJ set, he interjects ATCQ, Black Sheep and De La Soul into his set lists, which have always been well received by party goers.

I was watching TV late one night and saw a documentary by actor Michael Rapaport called Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest.  I’ve always known how much of an influence, audience and fan base that ATCQ have had over the years, because I have felt that influence on myself.  I really just listened to the music, but I guess I never delved deeper into the group themselves.  Q-Tip is always visible and even when he did solo projects, I didn’t realize that ATCQ broke up due to the heated turmoil within the group.  I feel I know so much about Depeche Mode because I have more intimate knowledge about the group.  I didn’t know much about ATCQ until the night I watched the documentary.  I had no idea that Pfife was diabetic, eventually going on dialysis, only to receive a kidney from his wife, who happened to be a match.  It was like I was seeing the group for the first time, yet the music was so familiar.  I immediately started listening to my favorite songs, with a better understanding of who they were. 

Michael Rapaport did a great job in documenting who ATCQ were musically, and personally.  All of the happiness and turbulence were well intertwined with personal accounts of the group, their close friends and people they have influenced.  During a show in San Francisco in 2008, I was wrapped up in seeing how much De La Soul cared and wanted Tribe to work out their differences because the message that they have put out over the years should reflect harmony and positivity, although the actuality was great discord and emotional chaos.  No matter what they said or did, there existed a chasm that only time could really heal.  After Pfife’s surgery, they reunited for a few shows in 2010 and 2011 stronger and more positive.

The documentary ended with a note that they have not put out an album since The Love Movement, and also mentioned that they still have one more contracted album left to release with Jive records.  ATCQ have always been ground breaking, innovative, thoughtful, thought-provoking, smart and soulful.  The vibe and groove always made their songs feel almost acoustic in atmosphere, rather than metallic and manufactured.  I would love to see something new from ATCQ because I think it’s time that the kids out there see how true masters of hip-hop do it, and do it well.

(Another side note:  I have SiriusXM and listen to 1st Wave religiously because it’s all alternative from the 80’s.  Backspin on SiriusXM is the equivalent in the genre of old school rap and hip-hop.  I’m totally addicted!)

(All images courtesy of the official A Tribe Called Quest website)