Friday, August 15, 2008
The music and the movement of A Tribe Called Quest summed up my teenage experience with butter smooth lyricism and a crisp 808 bass thump.
I'm dating myself, but over the course of my high school career from 1990 to 1994, A Tribe Called Quest released three classic hip-hop albums, “People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm,” “The Low End Theory,” and “Midnight Marauders.”
That was my wonder years trilogy, a trifecta of poetic perfection that enlightened my youth. So what if I sound overly nostalgic. As I prepare to see my favorite rap group for the first time (this is written in advance of their Saturday night performance at Shoreline Ampitheater in Mountain View), the memories of those years in tune with the Tribe rhythm are bouncing back in perfect sync.
“People's Instinctive Travels...” was released in 1991, just before the start of my freshman year. Tribe was an anomaly at the time, four members (Q-Tip, Phife, Ali Shaheed Muhammed and Jarobi) who dressed in dashikis and head wraps, rhyming about losing their wallets on a cross country road trip and falling in love with girls named after fruit. At first, I didn't get it.
Then, the song “Can I Kick It,” with its sample of the Lou Reed song “Walk on the Wild Side,” got played in heavy rotation on Yo! MTV Raps (yeah, I'm old school like that) and “Pump It Up” with Dee Barnes (okay, now I'm just old). I paid more attention to the group, bought the tape (what are those?) and bumped it in my Walkman for most of my freshman year.
I knew the group was on to something when toward the end of the year, my friend Frank pulled the tape out of his Walkman and handed it to me.
“You heard of these guys?” he asked.
“Oh yeah, I've been bumping that for a while now,” I said, feeling like someone who had been in on a secret for a long time and now everyone else was just starting to catch up.
Mid-way through my sophomore year, “The Low End Theory” was released and I was on board, a full-time Tribe devotee. When the video for “Check The Rhyme” came out, my neighbor Danny couldn't stop talking about it.
(Side note: Danny had a satellite in his back yard, one of those half-dome, iron rod joints that moved at the speed the earth rotates around the sun. He was the only guy on the block who got BET and got to see more rap videos than me. I was always trying to watch videos at his house during the summer).
By the summer before my junior year, the song “Scenario” was our neighborhood anthem. We would blast it on my little boom box and scream along to Busta Rhyme's “Rah-Rah/Like a Dungeon Dragon” verse at the end.
I even started dressing like Tribe. When I saw Q-Tip perform on television rocking a throwback New York Yankees fitted cap, I ran to the mall and scooped up the exact same cap.
My senior year was dominated by “Midnight Marauders.” At the time, I worked at “Sam Goody” in the mall. We would get music in advance and employees could buy tapes the day before they were purchased.
The day we got the album was also pay day, so I had planned my own private listening party to celebrate at home.
The thing that made Tribe so cool was their music could appeal to everyone. I liked the beats and the lyrics. My girlfriends liked Q-Tips voice and thought he was fly. The homeboys on my block liked the bass they could bump in their rides.
Back then, I tried to turn on everyone to Tribe. When they broke up a few years later, I was pretty depressed. I never got to see them live. The one chance I did have, I missed their set by a couple of minutes. That sucked.
Now, I get to relive my wonder years and jam out with the best.
Posted by Marc Cabrera at 11:00 AM