I don't know about y'all, but I had a good time when I started college in 1990. Maybe a little too good of a time failing out of my pre-medicine program and all, but that's beside the point. My undergraduate institution may not have been a Black college nor was it a party school, but the community of students of color was pretty tight knit and to combat the academic stress, we got it in and got it in good back in the day. It seemed like every weekend there was a house party or two to attend or a college night at a nightclub to go to and just be young and single and free before we graduated and real life kicked in. But as a college freshman that year, graduation was the farthest thing from my mind, which was instead filled with thoughts of how I would make my morning classes if I went clubbing the night before. One album that I hold near and dear to my hip-hop head heart and remember always getting play whether from my tape deck, in the vinyl collections of the DJs/scholars who I went to school with or on the dance floors I frequented, was A Tribe Called Quest's classic debut, People's Instinctive Travels and The Paths Of Rhythm.
Following in the footsteps of the Jungle Brothers and De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest were the next members of the Native Tongues posse to release an album in the spring of 1990. We had already gotten a satisfying taste of front man Q-Tip with his distinctive laid-back flow on songs such the JB's "Black Is Black" and "In Time" and on De La's "Buddy (Remix)." So when it was time for A Tribe Called Quest to drop People's Instinctive Travels and The Paths Of Rhythm there was already a built-in audience ready to see what Tip and fellow group members Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jairobi were bringing to the hip-hop table.
The four-man band brought a lot. Unlike some of the other hip-hop releases from that year, ATCQ was all about abstract lyrics, Afrocentrism, positivity and consciousness. However, they weren't 2.0 versions of the Jungle Brothers or De La Soul. They had their own style and their own sound, built on soul and jazz samples from an array of artists such as Stevie Wonder, Roy Ayers, Cannonball Adderley, Slave , Grace Jones and more that were tailor made to fit Tip's and Phife's voices.
This was the kind of album that had a song for every mood. The entire thing could play in the background while studying with a steady head nod. You could have deep discussions about giving up meat and becoming a vegetarian to "Ham 'N Eggs" or about safe sex when "Pubic Enemy" came on. The second single, "I Left My Wallet In El Segundo," or "Rhythm (Devoted to the Art of Moving Butts)" were perfect selections to warm the party up. While the singles "Can I Kick It?" and "Bonita Applebum" and their many remixes would set many a party off on the left when the DJ dropped the needle on the record.
As good as People's Instinctive Travels and The Paths Of Rhythm was, it's still not even Tribe's best. The great debate between The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders continues to this day, but People's is a strong contender for their third greatest album and one of the best hip hop albums to ever be released regardless of its commercial success or lack thereof. I was shocked to find out that it took years for this album to even go gold because you couldn't tell me that it wasn't platinum as much as I played it then and still do to this day.
Since their awesome introduction to us 20 years ago, Tribe has had their fair share of tribulations over the years. Breaking up in 1998, they regrouped in 2006 with Jairobi, who mysteriously left the group after People's dropped, back in the mix, but with Phife looking rather sickly. News of his diabetes and need for a kidney transplant soon spread. He received a transplant in 2008 and ATCQ has since performed on the Rock the Bells tour and selected gigs. There's no new album news, but there is a documentary on A Tribe Called Quest scheduled to premiere at Sundance in January 2011, although Q-Tip has stated his objections as one of the film's producers and says that the doc is not ready for prime time yet. That's fine if we have to wait a little longer to see Tribe's story done right to match the quality of music that they took such great care in making, starting with People's Instinctive Travels and The Paths Of Rhythm.