A lot of artists today like to emphasize their ability to mesh genres and take risks, often calling themselves game changers when uniting different worlds of sounds and lyrical styles. While many do deserve respect for their creativity and craft, I like to give credit where credit is due.
A Tribe Called Quest were masters of this trick. In fact, their fusion of hip-hop and jazz, knack for sampling, and the complementary lyrical styles of Phife Dawg and Q-Tip solidified the group as pioneers for the new era of hip hop that debuted in the late 1980s, demonstrating throughout their years that it is possible to get funky in sound without having to sacrifice artistry or depth in flow. Simply put, they are timeless.
So for today’s Throwback Thursday, I wanted to highlight my love for Tribe via their track Award Tour. There are tons of much more lyrically and thematically complex tracks that I could have selected from Tribe’s catalogue, but I think that this song really celebrates what we here at Bad Perm value the most: enjoying and sharing good music.
We on Award Tour with Muhammad my man
Goin each and every place with the mic in their hand
New York, NJ, N.C., VA
We on Award Tour with Muhammad my man
Goin each and every place with the mic in their hand
Oaktown, L.A., San Fran, St. John
There were several artists who were part of the overall movement to shift hip hop to a more mainstream audience using quick wit, relatable lyricism, abstract imagery and positive themes. Fellow performers and friends The Jungle Brothers, Afrika Bambaataa and Queen Latifah forged an alliance under the name Native Tongues where they supported each other’s careers and helped to promote their respective work as well as collaborate with one another. De La Soul, a New York based hip-hop/jazz group who came up around the same time as Tribe also found their way to Native Tongues, as did the likes of Black Star, Common, and Busta Rhymes. Based on this history, its only appropriate that ATCQ called in the talents of Truggy, The Dove from De La Soul in an anthem dedicated to spreading music around the world, much like the Native Tongues aimed to do. In each rendition of the chorus, Truggy mentions a slew of places that they want to hit visit to spread the music.
People give your ears so I be sublime
It’s enjoyable to know you and the concubine
N***as, take off your coats; ladies, act like gents
Sit down, Indian style, as we recite these hymns
Here, Q-Tip invites listeners to get comfortable with the good sounds and vibes surrounding their ears – that is, if they let them. An Award Tour can only take place when a listener is open to hearing the stories that aim to tell the truth. When this does happen, a rapper can be at his best and will thus be considered sublime, demonstrating the importance of the relationship between the listener and the artist. This goes along well with the theme of the album Midnight Marauders. As the narrator of the album says, “The word to maraud means to loot. In this case, we maraud for ears.” It is Tip’s hope that with such openness, Tribe’s tales will help achieve this objective.
See, lyrically I’m Mario Andretti on the mo-mo
Ludicrously speedy, or infectious with the slow-mo
Heard me in the eighties, J Beez on the promo
On my never endin’ quest to get the paper on the Caper
Mario Andretti was a world-renowned racecar driver who won several races and titles associated with the sport, certifying him as a legend. It seems that Q-Tip was very much aware how much of a champion he was at rhyming, and like Andretti, favoured speedy rhythms as well ensuring that he provided those moments that would make you stop to listen. Q-Tip’s endless pursuit for success really began with The Jungle Brothers’ debut, where he contributed a verse for their track The Promo. Since, Q-Tip has become notorious for his lyrical talent and at times a dude with an oversized ego, but has also become extremely well known for being a hell of a producer. If there is any way to rob the spotlight, Tip knows how to do it best.
But now, let me take it to the Queens side
I’m takin it to Brooklyn side
All the residential questers to invade the way
Hold up a second son, cause’ we almost there
You can be a black man and lose all your soul
You can be white and blue but don’t crap the roll
See my shit is universal, if you got knowledge and
Dolo Of delf for self, see there’s no one else
Who can drop it on the angle, acute at that
So, do that, do that, do do that that that(come on)
Do that, do that, do do that that that(ok)
Do that, do that, do do that that that
Tip moves on to talking about how universal music is and the reach it has to not only the dedicated followers, but the new fans too. If the listener possesses a sense of self and again submerges themselves into the beats and rhymes, they will find that only ATCQ can deliver consistently and sharply, moreso than many of the other artists who were struggling for mainstream recognition in the early 90s. One of the reasons I fell in love with Tribe was because of how universal their music and themes were. It still amazes me that even 19 years after the release of Midnight Marauders, people are still discovering the truths of Tribe and still consider it to be relevant. This, more than anything, is a testament to how monumental their music was for their time and even for generations to come.
I’m buggin out, so let me get back cause I’m wettin
So run and tell the others cause we are the brothas
I learned how to build mics in my workshop class
So give me this award, and let’s not make it the Last
To close his verse, Q-Tip references one of Tribe’s biggest tracks, Buggin’ Out and jumps from the philosophical perspective he was sharing in previous lines to requesting the listener to warn the competitors that he was pretty much born to do this. Your attention is his award, and if he gets it, then he’ll prove that he will always deserve it.
Back in ’89, I simply slid into place
Buddy, buddy, buddy all up in your face
A lot of kids was bustin rhymes but they had no Taste
Some said Quest was wack, but now is that the case
Phife Dawg really jumped into the hip-hop scene back in 1989. While there were plenty who doubted the eclectic styles of Tribe and their Native Tongue counterparts, their cumulative success with some of their first few records gained the attention of critics and audiences across the board. Although Tribe’s first record was applauded for the styles of Jarobi, Phife and Q-Tip, it was their follow up, The Low End Theory which helped them to avoid the fate of a one hit wonder, a classification that plagued many rappers in the late 80s and early 90s.
I have a quest to have the mic in my hand
Without that, it’s like kryptonite and Superman
So Shaheed come in with the sugar cuts
Phife Dawg’s my name, but on stage, call me Dynomutt
Using superhero analogies, Phife explains that he needs a mic and a stage to save people. Any other situation would be deadly like kryptonite, which is the one element that could stop Superman. Luckily, Phife’s got Ali Shaheed Muhammed to scratch for him to help him maximize his potential. Dynomutt was a Hanna Barbara produced canine who could utilize his internal mechanisms in moments of crisis. For Phife, his primary mechanism and key to saving the hopeless were his rhymes.
When was the last time you heard the Phifer sloppy
Lyrics anonymous, you’ll never hear me copy
Top notch baby, never comin less
Sky’s the limit, you gots to believe up in Quest
Sit back, relax, get up out the path
If not that, here’s the dancefloor, come move that a*s
Non-believers, you can check the stats
Matching Q-Tip’s message emphasis on talent and skill, Phife discusses his consistent ability to deliver creative and original goods. Phife has always been appreciated for his aggressive style and talent for some of the best one liners out there. There is no place to create anything that’s less than the best, so as a listener, you have two options: a) watch the Tribe storm through and join the dance party, or b) get out of their way, because they’re making moves with or without the support. At the time of this track’s release, Tribe was still floating on the success of The Low End Theory, which really showcased their infamous minimalist, hip-hop jazz sound and produced a series of highly revered songs, including Buggin Out, Excursions, and Jazz (We Got). One of its biggest singles, Scenario, helped launch Busta Rhymes into the limelight. In retrospect, many have dubbed this entire album as a part of the elite releases of the 90s.
I roll with Shaheed and the brotha abstract
N***as know the time when the quest is in the jam
I never let a statue tell me how nice I am
Comin with more hits than the Braves and the Yankees
Livin mad phat like an over sized bam-bi
The wackest crews try to dis, it makes me laugh
When my track record’s longer than a dc-20 aircraft
So, next time that you think you want somethin here
Make somethin deffer, take that garbage to St. Elsewhere
The last few lines of Phife’s verse again refocus the listener’s attention to the message of Award Tour by reiterating the talent and influence that Tribe as a collective have. Here, he notes that awards and haters have little effect on what is delivered by the group, especially when they’ve developed a series of tracks that, according to Phife, were better than two of the best teams in the MBL of the 90s. He then forewarns that no one should look for something more from Tribe than what they want to deliver. Really speaking, why would you want anything else? They deserve the awards.