Another birth came in the 1990s from a massive collaboration called the Native Tongues. They were the first group of “positive” rappers, who wore African garb and rapped about loving who you are and where you come from. That group included Black Sheep, Jungle Brothers, the Roots, De La Soul, Monie Love, Queen Latifah, and A Tribe Called Quest.
In Michael Rappaport’s directorial debut, Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, he documents the group’s 2008 Rock the Bells tour. In it, he interviews the members of Tribe and the likes of DJ Red Alert, Chris Lighty (the group’s former manager), Pharrell Williams, the guys of the Beastie Boyz, Ludacris, Monie Love, DJ Angie Martinez, the members of De La Soul, The Roots and Black Sheep, Common, Afrika Baby Bam, and Mos Def.
In 1985, A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ) was formed with Q-Tip (Kamaal Fareed), Phife Dawg (Malik Taylor), Jarobi White and DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad. This group’s first album, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, was released in 1990 and didn’t quite catapult them to success with its jazz roots and different sound. Most people were used to hardcore rap.
ATCQ’s second album, Low End Theory, met much more success, as the group really came into its own. From there, ATCQ made three more albums, including the much-lauded Midnight Marauders and Beats, Rhymes And Life. By 1998, the group, then minus Jarobi White, decided to disband, one album away from finishing their contract with Jive Records.
At the time of ATCQ’s reign, I was too young to listen to their albums. My mother, a minister, didn’t want my impressionable mind to be corrupted by adult music. Back then, the only way I knew of any kind of rap was from my older cousins, who were more hardcore rap and booty-shaking music fans than into socially conscious music.
Embarrassingly, I am not that familiar with ATCQ or The Roots or De La Soul or Black Sheep. I know a song or two from these groups but I’m not up on their influence on hip hop music, as a whole. But, watching Beats, the documentary, I see that a lot of my favorite groups have been heavily influenced by ATCQ.
There are references that originated with ATCQ that still pop up in songs by artists such as Jay-Z, Black Eyed Peas and Kanye West and even comedians such as Tracy Morgan. I still remember an interview I had with Morgan and Chris Rock, in which Morgan likened himself to “a funky diuretic.” At the time, I hadn’t realized that he was riffing on a song in which Phife called himself a “funky diabetic.”
Even though the members of ATCQ, who currently have their own solo projects but still tour around the world performing their greatest hits, have officially disbanded, their influence still rings out in the hip hop community. This is evidenced by Pharrell Williams, who waxes poetic about the group and shakes his head at the state of hip hop today.
I don’t blame him. I, too, shake my head at hip hop these days, as well. Actually, I shake my head at music today, period.
When I was growing up, music had purpose to make you feel emotions. Songs have the power to make you happy, sad, angry or all of the above. Most of the songs that are popular these days are just something to listen to in your car so you don’t fall asleep at the wheel.
One thing I have to say about Beats, the documentary, is that it pays homage to the true essence of hip hop and it makes the obvious hip hop neophyte in me nostalgic about the music of yesteryear.
It also makes me want to explore that side of my African-American heritage. The odd thing about that is it took a white man to give honor to what Q-Tip calls “the last true American past-time” — hip hop.
Photo: From left to right: DJ Ali (Shaheed Muhammad), Q-Tip (Kamaal Fareed) and Phife Dawg (Malik Taylor)