A Tribe Called Quest: Questin’ Time

THEY TROOP into the hotel foyer. The New Soldiers Of Rap are jet lagged from eight hours on a plane but the assault on Britain has to start somewhere.

There’s Afrika Bambaataa. A tape of his new single — complete with guest appearances by several younger rappers — is burning in his pocket. Following close behind is The Jungle Brother’s public face, Africa ‘Baby’ Bambaataa, in town for remix duties and just weeks away from the release of the-already-a-classic-LP, Done By The Forces Of Nature.

He is in turn followed by Tribe Called Quest, the group that, since the release of their debut single ‘Description Of A Fool’, a lot of people have their cash on.

The Tribe (Q Tip, Phife, Jarobi, and Ali-Shaheed, the latter absent today) are part of the loose collective that includes De La Soul, The Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah and honorary member Monie Love. They all turn up on each other’s vinyl (check the new remix of De La Soul’s ‘Buddy’ for the latest instalment) because they all share the same vision of how rap should go. Intelligent and incisive lyrics, music that turns cartwheels in the mix by sampling anything that comes to hand, a spiritual leaning mixed with off-beat humour and fun.

Phife and Q Tip were the instigators behind the Tribe. Both hail from Queens, New York, and in 1983 both thought that the world needed them. It took them six years plus two new members to persuade everyone that they were right.

“A lot of it,” Q Tip explains about their early days, “depends on who you know, that’s what it boils down to. If you know somebody then you don’t really have a problem. You can be on a shitty independent label but if the talent is there you can work your way up to the majors.”

The most significant twist in the Tribe’s history occurred this year when they first met De La Soul.

“The Jungle Brothers met them at a show in Boston and the next week we all had a show in Queens. We met and everything clicked. It was like brothers who had been split apart at birth because we all came together like clockwork.

“Normally, when you’re doing a show with somebody, you meet them and it’s, ‘Hi, how are ya doing? Def album,’ and that’s the extent of it. But with De La Soul it was, ‘let’s go and hang out’. We had so many things in common. Musical tastes, lyrical content, attitude as to where our heads are at, and our age, we’re all 19-20 years old, so we just did what all kids of that age do.”

The Tribe’s first warning to an unsuspecting world was their debut shot, ‘Description Of A Fool’. Over Roy Ayer’s classic funk, ‘Running Away’, they ran down three pert examples of unacceptable behaviour, tearing apart macho behaviour.

“R&B is stagnant,” Q Tip announces, “and rap is the new R&B. It’s not so much the singers who are to blame but the productions. It’s like Afrika said, they are hiding the true value of the singer because it’s more about who can come up with the best snare sound or the best orchestration.

“That’s why I am saying rap is like the new R&B because it’s so hot now and it has been for the last two or three years. But it’s still underground. They think it’s threatening because we’re saying different things. All R&B artists speak about love but we’re saying different things which is threatening to our elders. But we’re not rebelling, it’s like, we get this from you, mum and dad.”

“People didn’t understand our first single. It was like crazy abstract for them. People were saying they liked the music but as for the lyrics, they weren’t going to deal with them. But overseas the critics loved it and the people loved it here. People in Europe appreciate rap more. You seem to pay more attention to lyrics and music. But it was cool because that record laid the groundwork.”

Last year was spent putting their debut LP, (and, love this title) People’s Instinctive Travels In The Paths Of Rhythm together. One track, ‘I Left My Wallet In El Segundo’ uses a heavy reggae bass feel, courtesy of Phife, whilst another, ‘Pubic Enemy’ is a jokey examination of sexually transmitted diseases.

Whether the Tribe’s linguistic gymnastics will strike home is not a concern for this group. The message is in the music and the music is the message.

“They hear the music first,” Q Tip explains, “and if they’re a big fan of the music then they will take the lyrics in. People are suckers for good music and they’re also suckers for a positive message. I’m a sucker for that.

“Chuck D, is the best for that. He gets the bait and the bait is the music and Flavor Flav. He draws everyone in and then they listen to what he’s saying. The bait for our group is the music and the way we say rhymes. Our style gets people.”

Find them in a groove starting near you soon.

© Paolo HewittNew Musical Express, 6 January 1990

Leave a Comment