Deep Album Cuts Vol. 59: A Tribe Called Quest

A number of notable musicians have already passed away in the early months of 2016, some of which have prompted installments in this series. But I have to say, the news about Malik "Phife Dawg" Taylor hit me the hardest. The Low End Theory is my favorite hip hop album of all time, and Tribe will always be close to my heart as one of the greatest groups of the '90s. Their catalog is relatively small and easy to distill to the highlights, but it's fun to dig past the hits like "Scenario" and "Award Tour" and strip it down to the songs that made their albums so exhilarating and thought-provoking and easy to revisit over and over.

A Tribe Called Quest Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist): 

1. Rhythm (Devoted To The Art Of Moving Butts)
2. Ham 'N' Eggs
3. After Hours
4. Butter
5. Skypager
6. What?
7. Show Business featuring Brand Nubian and Diamond D
8. Vibes And Stuff
9. Excursions
10. 8 Million Stories
11. Midnight
12. We Can Get Down
13. Lyrics To Go
14. Steve Biko (Stir It Up)
15. Baby Phife's Return featuring Consequence
16. Phony Rappers
17. Keeping It Moving featuring Consequence
18. Word Play featuring Consequence
19. Da Booty
20. His Name Is Mutty Ranks
21. The Love

Tracks 1, 2 and 3 from People's Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm (1990)
Tracks 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 from The Low End Theory (1991)
Tracks 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 from Midnight Marauders (1993)
Tracks 15, 16, 17 and 18 from Beats, Rhymes And Life (1996)
Tracks 19, 20 and 21 from The Love Movement (1998)

I knew Tribe's singles but didn't really become a fan until around 1997, when one of my high school friends, Scott, put The Low End Theory on a tape for me (another classic album, Television's Marquee Moon, was on the flipside). I wore out that tape so much that I can still hear the tape distortion over the opening bars of the album every time I listen to "Excursions." By that point, hip hop was already in a different place and Tribe seemed kind of like part of the past. So it didn't feel that surprising the next year when The Love Movement arrived as their final album, and I didn't listen to it as much as the other albums that came out that day (particularly Mos Def And Talib Kweli Are Black Star, which kinda felt like it was getting that torch passed to it from Tribe). But from there I still got to catch up with their other albums and get my mind blown again by Midnight Marauders.

I've never warmed up that much to People's Instinctive Travels, partly because Phife is barely on it. Really, the tentative handful of verses on that album and then his huge leap in presence in confidence on Low End Theory is one of the biggest growth spurts in rap history. So I thought some of the reviews that People's got upon its reissue last year were I dunno, a little generous. It's a fine album, not a great one. And as his talent flourished on the next two albums, Phife became one of the great everyman MCs, a master of self-deprecation, of R&B and basketball references, of ejaculation puns. For a guy who was never the biggest star of his group, Phife had a real star quality, and was too talented to be merely a sidekick.

I would like to see some reevaluation of the later albums, though, especially Beats, Rhymes And Life. There's a big disconnect between how revered Jay Dilla is today and how underrated his addition to Tribe's production team was at the time. And Consequence has also been pretty well vindicated by time as a skilled MC. I think Q-Tip was always so set on the collective mentality of A Tribe Called Quest that he pushed to include more voices, which is why Jarobi's involvement was always made up to be so much more than it was and Consequence became part of the team. But at the end of the day, the interplay between Q-Tip and Phife was the essence of the group, the way their voices and their styles contrasted, and it's just so sad to think that those guys will never rap together again.

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
Vol. 5: Brad Paisley
Vol. 6: George Jones
Vol. 7: The Doors
Vol. 8: Jay-Z
Vol. 9: Robin Thicke
Vol. 10: R. Kelly
Vol. 11: Fall Out Boy
Vol. 12: TLC
Vol. 13: Pink
Vol. 14: Queen
Vol. 15: Steely Dan
Vol. 16: Trick Daddy
Vol. 17: Paramore
Vol. 18: Elton John
Vol. 19: Missy Elliott
Vol. 20: Mariah Carey
Vol. 21: The Pretenders
Vol. 22: "Weird Al" Yankovic
Vol. 23: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Vol. 24: Foo Fighters
Vol. 25: Counting Crows
Vol. 26: T.I.
Vol. 27: Jackson Browne
Vol. 28: Usher
Vol. 29: Mary J. Blige
Vol. 30: The Black Crowes
Vol. 31: Ne-Yo
Vol. 32: Blink-182
Vol. 33: One Direction
Vol. 34: Kelly Clarkson
Vol. 35: The B-52's
Vol. 36: Ludacris
Vol. 37: They Might Be Giants
Vol. 38: T-Pain
Vol. 39: Snoop Dogg
Vol. 40: Ciara
Vol. 41: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Vol. 42: Dwight Yoakam
Vol. 43: Demi Lovato
Vol. 44: Prince
Vol. 45: Duran Duran
Vol. 46: Rihanna
Vol. 47: Janet Jackson
Vol. 48: Sara Bareilles
Vol. 49: Motley Crue
Vol. 50: The Who
Vol. 51: Coldplay
Vol. 52: Alicia Keys
Vol. 53: Stone Temple Pilots
Vol. 54: David Bowie
Vol. 55: The Eagles
Vol. 56: The Beatles
Vol. 57: Beyonce
Vol. 58: Beanie Sigel
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