Skip to content

A Tribe Called Quest


A Tribe Called Quest forever shifted the hip-hop landscape and expanded the creative possibilities for the genre. Their freedom of expression, ingenuity, and minimalist brilliance continue to inspire generations of hip-hop artists and fans.

One of the most artistic, eclectic, and perceptive rap groups of the 1990s, A Tribe Called Quest nurtured a new alternative hip-hop sub-genre with a caste-free cross-pollination of hip-hop, jazz, and alternative rock. The pioneering group abandoned the aggressive machismo and hard-hitting sounds of James Brown that were prevalent in the era, delving instead into the more laid-back samples of the jazz-rap revolution. Their music was meant to create a metaphysical space for the listener, where one could retreat and confront the social issues facing the African American community with peace rather than rage and violence. This cerebral approach exemplified an intermingling of cultures and sound to yield beauty and understanding.

Formed in high school in Queens, New York, in 1985, A Tribe Called Quest featured Q-Tip serving as the producer-leader, Phife Dawg as the MC, Jarobi White as the spirited everyman, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad as the DJ and coproducer. Within four years, the group released three albums, now recognized as among the best: People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, The Low End Theory, and Midnight Marauders. “It was listening to N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton that inspired us to make The Low End Theory,” said Q-Tip. “Years later, I spoke to Dr. Dre, and he told me that hearing The Low End Theory inspired him to make The Chronic.”

The group became the nucleus of a New York collective known as the Native Tongues, a musical movement deeply rooted in Afrocentrism and positive, open-minded messages welcoming diverse identities and conceptions of Blackness. They created underground waves that continue to ripple throughout hip-hop, influencing artists like Pharrell Williams, Tyler, the Creator, and Quest Love in their approaches to social commentary, the use of Black musical traditions, and the visual culture of the African diaspora.

Selected Discography

“Can I Kick It?,” “Bonita Applebum,” “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo,” People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990) • “Check the Rhime,” “Jazz (We’ve Got),” “Scenario,” “Buggin’ Out,” The Low End Theory (1991) • “Electric Relaxation,” “Award Tour,” Midnight Marauders (1993) • “Find a Way,” The Love Movement (1998)