Kamaal Ibn John Fareed, Malik Taylor & Ali Shaheed Muhammad: The Best of…

I’m not going to lie to you. I’m not going to pretend. My first exposure, of any kind, to A Tribe Called Quest came in 2006. Now when I say “exposure” I’m not talking Scenario, Bonita Applebum“, “Electric Relaxation, & Award Tour; anyone with eardrums or MTV would know those songs. I’m talking a full introduction to Tribe, as I’ve affectionately called them since 2008.

Have you ever heard of a shouting match between 2 strangers on the uptown 4 train ending with one giving the other his iPod? If you answered “Sure. When does that not happen?” I’d have to say that you are worldly and well-traveled. For those who say “No.”, I’ve got a quick story for you…

It was October 26th, 2006, the day of my 21st birthday, I was riding the uptown 4 with a group of friends (1 guy & 2 girls) when I suddenly became involved in an altercation with a rather intoxicated gentleman who obviously had one too many.

In the heat of the argument I spouted:

“Why are you fuckin’ with me anyway? I don’t need this shit. It’s my fucking birthday!”

Upon hearing that, his facial expression changed almost immediately and he said:

“Aw fam, it’s your birthday? My bad. No nigga deserve to get fucked with on his birthday. You know what a iPod is?”

Of course I did but before I could answer he reached into his coat pocket and handed me a white iPod; on it was all 5 of Tribe’s studio albums including one compilation (Revised Quest for the Seasoned Traveller).

But it wasn’t until the Spring of 2007 that I realized that I was given a set of keys: one was to every bar in New York City and the other was to the whimsical world of Quest; and I intended on becoming a Seasoned Traveller.

With that, I present to you the Top 5 Songs from A Tribe Called QuestIncluding 2 bonus songs that definitely should have been on the list. But I warn you, determining the creme of Quest is an enormous feat; feelings will be both hurt and spared.

  • First:

Can I Kick It?” (People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm)

Now this was a very delicate decision but when it came down to it I had to consider which song moves me the most and this is the one. I’ll never forget what “made” this song for me: I was sitting in one of my favorite lounges downtown (Madame X‘s on Houston Street) and I was surrounded by a group of my friends; all of us smiling, laughing and enjoying our youth. This song came on in the background, time froze and I said to myself: “Life is a sun and at this very moment I am basking in her rays.”

The spritely horns and slumbering guitar strums makes for the perfect summer tune. For me, the song summed up the 2007 summer with one question: Can I kick it?

“Do you like the garments that we wear?
I instruct you to be the obeyer
A rhythm recipe that you’ll savor
Doesn’t matter if you’re minor or major
Yes, the Tribe of the game, rhythm player
As you inhale like a breath of fresh air” – Phife Dawg

 

 

  • Next up:

Electric Relaxation” (Midnight Marauders)

“Can I Kick It?” may be my favorite Quest song of all time but “Electric Relaxation” is my first love. This song was the first to let me know that A Tribe Called Quest was dope. The hypnotic repetition of Relax yourself girl, Please settle down. puts the listener into a trance and the smooth vocals go perfect with the song’s jazzy urban tempo.

If it weren’t for hearing this song, I may have just passed Quest off as one of those Golden Age Hip-Hop groups and placed them on the back-burner; being that I wasn’t too interested in “old school” rap at the time. I became vaguely familiar with Scenario some years before but it didn’t really convince me that I was missing out anything.

“Electric Relaxation” made me acknowledge that Tribe was more than rah-rah 90’s antics, they were artist.

Q-Tip:

 “Yo, I took you out
But sex was on my mind for the whole damn route
My mind was in a frenzy and a horny state
But I couldn’t drop dimes ’cause you couldn’t relate… you couldn’t relate… you couldn’t relate…”

Phife Dawg:

“If my mom don’t approve, then I’ll just elope
Let me sink the little man from inside the boat
Let me hit it from the back, girl I won’t catch a hernia
Bust off on your couch, now you got Seamen’s furniture

 

 

  • Third:

Midnight” (Midnight Marauders)

Obviously this selection indicates a trend but trust me, this is the last Midnight Marauders pick, I swear. On this song Q-Tip goes solo and does more than enough to hold his own.

“See, Jake be gettin’ illy when the sun get dark
They be comin’ out the heads, but shit don’t let me start
Their activities are plenty in nighttime (nighttime)
For the ghetto child, it seems to be the right time
See, kids be gettin’ stuck with jewels and fly gimmicks
Shorty see the action and then start to mimic
Runnin’ to the corner, the dice game is blazin’
Lookin’ at the loot, it seems so amazin’
Puts it short down, to be exact would bound
He shakes the stones in his hand, then he lets it down (uh!)
Scared money don’t make none
He threw a trip on the ace, now he’s out son
Hits the local bodega to wolf down a hero
Son is on a ‘Midnight Run’ like De Niro
Spots the shorty rock standin’ on his block
The thieves be handlin’ in the pumps, so he asked it’s not
Conversation that he kicked to the shorty was a sly one
Increased intensity, his dance sure was a fly one
Took her to the crib there she ran her jibs
About mind upliftment and bein’ positive
He yawned and he sighed til 1:05
Then he finally realized that hunny wasn’t live
At least he didn’t plan on buildin’ for the evenin’
Threw the Fila on the dome and said ‘Come on yo, we leavin”

Came out on the scene as he told her to beep him
Saw his man Sam with the blunt in his hand
(Aww Shhh…!!!) You know the transaction
Brothas gettin’ lost in the weed satisfaction
Comin’ down the block man loud as (fuck)
You would swear Redman was inside the trunk
As the night seemed darker, cops is on a hunt
They interrupt ya cipher, and crush ya blunt
See you left your work at home, so they pat you down for nuthin’
Why in the hell does 10-4 keep frontin’?
You push to the park, even though it’s still dark
The kid is nice on the hoop, he said ‘I’ll spot ya troop'”

This is an anthem for the night owls; a lament for the city dwelling youths. There have been countless times where I’ve found myself zoning out to this song while riding the train, on my way to a late night rendezvous with friends, anticipating the good times to be had once I’ve reached my destination.

 

 

  • Fourth:

“Bonita Applebum” (People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm)

How could I not include the beloved “Bonita Applebum”? The first single from the group’s debut album, it is believed to be about a real girl from the group’s high school. Truly a Quest classic, it secretly exposes the predicament of the average urban bachelor. The song is nothing short of seducing as Q-Tip propositions:

 “38-24-37 (uh, uh, uh!)
You and me, hun, we’re a match made in heaven
I like to kiss ya where some brothas won’t
I like to tell ya things some brothas don’t
If only you could see through your elaborate eyes
Only you and me, hun, the love never dies
Satisfaction, I have the right tactics
And if you need ’em, I got crazy prophylactics

So far, I hope you like rap songs
Bonita Applebum, you gotta put me on” – Q-Tip

Bonita had no choice but to be wooed. Despite it being one of the more overexposed tracks on the list, it’s still a favorite amongst hardcore ATCQ fans.

 

 

  • Finally:

Sucka Nigga” (Midnight Marauders)

Okay, remember when I said “No more Midnight Marauder picks.”, I fibbed. To be honest, aside from People’s Instinctive Travels…, Midnight Marauders is one of Tribe’s best albums. “The listener is guided through the program by a robotic voiced woman played by Laurel Dann.” At the end of “Award Tour“, the meaning of the album’s title is explained by Dann:

7 times out of 10, We listen to our music at night; the word maraud means to loot, in this case… We maraud for ears.

“Sucka Nigga” is also one of their best songs. Although it isn’t as well-known as the other picks, it holds much weight in the eyes of die-hard Tribe fans. For me, this song epitomizes the sociopolitical purpose of the Native Tongues Movement. Yet another track where Phife is absent it still retains its sting as Q-Tip spits:

“Socially I’m not a name, black and white got game
If you came to the jam, well I’m glad you came
See, nigga first was used back in the Deep South
Fallin’ out between the dome of the white man’s mouth
It means that we will never grow, you know the word dummy
Other niggas in the community think it’s crummy
But I don’t, neither does the youth cause we
em-brace adversity it goes right with the race
And being that we use it as a term of endearment
Niggas start to bug to the dome is where the fear went
Now the little shorties say it all of the time
And a whole bunch of niggas throw the word in they rhyme
Yo I start to flinch, as I try not to say it
But my lips is like the oowop as I start to spray it
My lips is like a oowop as I start to spray it
My lips is like a oowop as I start to spray the
…”

I would have ranked this higher on the list but I figured the track is in good company. Besides, I’ve given into popular demand for the majority of the list, ” Suck Nigga” & “Midnight” are my personal touch.

  • *Bonus (i)*:

Find a Way” (The Love Movement)

These two bonus picks were the hardest to choose. I’ve come to the realization that some important songs are going to get left out in the cold. Fortunately “Find a Way” isn’t one of them. The first single off of Tribe’s final studio album, The Love Movement, it is one of those tracks that is very much slept on. Produced by the late great J Dilla, it samples “Technova” by Towa Tei; a song that “innocently wonders about the point at which friendship spills over into sex.”

Phife Dawg:

Not dealing with nobody, now that’s what you told me (what?)
I said: “hey yo, it’s cool, we can just be friendly” (come on)
‘Cause yo, picture me messing it up
Her mind not corrupt with the ill C-Cups
Shit, I’m on my J.O. (come on)
Bullshittin’, hoping that the day goes slow (what?)
Got me like a friend, what confuses me though
Is kisses when we greet, tell me what’s the deal yo?
(deal yo, yo, yo…)”

I chose this song because of timing. The year was 1998, East Coast Mafioso rap had sent politically conscious rap to its grave (with the exception of Black Star‘s “Definition” and The Fugees) and DMX took it upon himself to dismantle the Shiny Suit Era. Despite all these circumstances, Tribe still managed to bow out with a memorable song.

Plus, our generation (the millennials) are most familiar with this song because of it being released at a time when we were becoming more cognizant of the music that we were listening to and “Find a Way” found a way to stick.

 

  • *Bonus (ii.)*:

“Check the Rhime” (The Low End Theory)

How could I leave out “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo”, “Jazz (We’ve Got)“, “Scenario”? Easy:

Industry rule #4,080: Record company people are shady” – Q-Tip

We would have never known that rule if we didn’t “Check the Rhime“. One of the group most popular songs, this is nearly a case of me saving the best for last.

Q-Tip: Back in the days on the boulevard of Linden,
we used to kick routines and presence was fittin’.
It was I the abstract

Phife Dawg: And me the five footer.
I kicks the mad style so step off the Frankfurter.

Q-Tip: Yo, Phife, you remember that routine
that we used to make spiffy like mister clean?

Phife Dawg: Um um, a tidbit, um, a smidgen.
I don’t get the message so you gots to run the pigeon.

Q-Tip: You on point Phife?

Phife Dawg: All the time, Tip.

Q-Tip: You on point Phife?

Phife Dawg: All the time, Tip.

Q-Tip: You on point Phife?

Phife Dawg: All the time, Tip.

Q-Tip: Well, then grab the microphone and let your words rip.

Phife Dawg: Now here’s a funky introduction of how nice I am.
Tell your mother, tell your father, send a telegram.

With all due respect to “Can I Kick It?” and my other four picks, I only bumped this down to bonus status because it was way too obvious. What Quest fan doesn’t reciting enjoy the “You on Point?/All the Time” exchange? For me, “Check the Chime” was the essence of an everyday New York City conversation transformed into song.

 

(More Than) Honorable Mentions:

  1. I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” (The Low End Theory)
  2. What?” (The Low End Theory)
  3. Hot Sex” (The Love Movement)
  4. Ham n’ Eggs” (People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm)
  5. Luck of Lucien” (People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm)
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