I’m a mature-on-Wednesdays 26 year-old. I was born in 1985, the year A Tribe Called Quest (or ATCQ, of course) formed. When their debut album, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm was released, I was all of 5 years old. I didn’t grow up listening to their music, either. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even know who they were until the late 90’s, and that was mainly because one of their hit singles, “Electric Relaxation” was the theme song on Wayan’s Bros..
Still, when finally introduced to their music as a high school freshman in 1999, I immediately fell in love. The beats. Charisma. Rhymes. Themes. “Butter”. “Vibes and Stuff”. “Oh My God”. “Scenario”. Their music as a whole captivated the hell out of me. It made me feel alright with being a nerd who didn’t give a fuck about being a nerd because I was actually being me. DMX, Jay-Z, Nas, Busta Rhymes and Co. reigned supreme in the rap and hip-hop world, but it was always ATCQ that stayed in rotation in my $29.99 portable CD player.
Recently I saw Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, a documentary about transcendent hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest. Directed by Michael Rapaport, it covered their beginning and end, highs and lows, with added commentary from the group’s family and friends, label, manager, collaborating artists, and artists who were simply fans. It was rather shocking to hear Phife Dawg diss Q-Tip, Q-Tip seem to never know why Phife was mad at him, see Ali virtually caught in the middle and Jarobi…gone.
ATCQ is my favorite music group, period. Over Wu-Tang Clan and Radiohead/OutKast/Daft Punk combined. Q-Tip and Phife’s rhymes have gotten me through more days than I can count. Obviously, I knew the group broke up and that the split wasn’t exactly amicable. However, I had no idea how the shit hit the fan within the group. I used to scoff when older people would lament over their favorite group disbanding, a lead singer defecting to go solo, a drummer turning to gospel. After being able to physically see the inner turmoil, I can finally understand why those changes can be hard for some fans to handle.
There were some negatives about the documentary. It was disheartening to actually see the in-fighting; to hear outsider accounts of a dysfunctional group slowly meeting its demise. I certainly didn’t like nor agree with the shared sentiment that Beats, Rhymes and Life and The Love Movement were subpar albums. Maybe they weren’t the first three, but how one could deny their dopeness is beyond me. Some parts that switched from Q-Tip’s to Phife’s opinions on the other had an almost elementary school playground vibe, which was unnecessary in my opinion.
However, I loved the background music and the interaction between the group’s members…during the good times. Hearing other artists of the genre describe how ATCQ influenced them was something that reaffirmed that I wasn’t the only nerdy kid who felt liberated by their music. I got to see Monie Love, weird clothes, and heard “Midnight” played in a movie theater. Not too shabby.
I knew there would be no happy ending. No reveal that ATCQ would be getting back together. My friend and I were surprised to find out that the group is actually contractually obligated to release one more album. So maybe we’ll be able to get that album and one more tour. Seeing the way things ended, I wouldn’t advise any ATCQ-lovers to hold their breath. I would like to tell you to get off of your asses and go see that documentary, though.
P.S. I miss Karen and the Moondance Woman!!!
P.P.S. Go Green. Go White.