In recent years of popular hip hop, lyrical content has taken a backseat to fly and flashy rhymes of diamonds, grills, rims, hoes and, of course, the almighty dollar – usually by illegal means.
But back in the early ’90s, the rap scene had a different feel. Groups like A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and The Leaders of the New School held rap to a standard that at least half of today’s MCs couldn’t touch. If you weren’t saying something that everyone could feel, no one was going to listen to you, and no catchy phrase or dance move was going to save you. A Tribe Called Quest owned the ’90s, where everything from The Low End Theory up to The Anthology was widely accepted in the streets. But the album that opened them up to the industry was their 1990 debut, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm.
Of the many dynamic hip-hop combos to come from New York around that time, Tribe created a rhythm so unique and electric they stood in a category of their own. Their smooth and catchy jazz feel coupled with the heavy bass beats and creative sampling gave them a form and technique to which even the best couldn’t compare. The Afrocentric lyrics and smooth flow – from Q-Tip with the quick rhymes and clever wordplay from Phife Dawg tied to the masterful mixes and beats from Ali Shaheed Mohammad – make for classics.
People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm is also responsible for some of the hits that have garnered so much acclaim. “Bonita Applebum,” which compares a girl to a hip-hop song, is smoother than any average love ballad with remnants of soul and jazz in the instrumental. Q-Tip’s attempt at Bonita’s heart avoids the customary sexual exaggerations typically standard in hip hop, going no further than his tactics for satisfaction and an array of prophylactics. On “Can I Kick It,” Tip and Phife explore the depth of their rhyming skills – they flow through full verses while rhyming off of one word. Q-Tip rhymes anything from funk buzz to jitterbug, and Phife Dawg gives his own rendition telling Quest as a studio conveyor and hip-hop savior.
Though Rolling Stone’s Chuck Eddy called it “one of the least danceable albums” in hip hop, it was an impressive start and led to even greater success for the group. The tag-team talents of Tip and Phife gave the album a mixed feel as one style greatly accented the other. With the occasional performance from Jarobi White and some quick background vocals from Lucien Revolucien, the album features Tribe at its peak and holds them there for years to come.
To flourish in hip hop today, you don’t have to care much about the content of your songwriting, but with a catchy hook, you’re good to go. But if you ever get tired of the mindless, flossy-flossy garbage that clogs the airwaves today, you might want to give this album a shot.