“We On a World Tour”
A Tribe Called Quest are one of hip-hop’s most influential and recognizable acts, and with good reason. From the start of their career, they were set on taking an alternative approach to hip-hop; one based on positivity, wise messages, and a smooth sound.
Their catalogue is, unsurprisingly, extremely consistent. With only six albums, they’re bound to hold some consistency; consistency so strong that even their best album holds no general consensus. This blog post is going to shine light on each of these gems, and discover which is the true peak.
6. The Love Movement (1998)
Tribe’s final effort before their unfortunate breakup is a clear example of them being on their last legs.
The chemistry has its moments of shine, but is nowhere near as natural or lighthearted as their early works. With so many changes to the group’s dynamic (i.e. Tip’s increasingly dominant role and the establishment of J Dilla as a co-producer), the end result had its holes. This, however, by no means makes this a weak effort; it is in fact one of Tribe’s more adventurous, and can be appreciated for that reason.
The sound is smooth and diverse, drawing strong inspirations from R&B as opposed to jazz. The performances are catchy and hypnotic, with an increasingly minimal production style that ensured a laid-back experience. Despite the unnerving context of this album’s creation, it is still a gem worth hearing; and proof that even at their lowest, Tribe are a quality constant.
Best Tracks: “The Love”, “Find a Way”
5. Beats, Rhymes & Life (1996)
Beats, Rhymes & Life marked Tribe’s biggest artistic detour. Coming off of their most bouncy to date, this was a complete 180; think of this being their nighttime endeavors. Gloomy and cold, this album is by far their most serious.
What makes this most apparent is the underlying competitive nature of the record, as tensions between Tip and Phife were increasing around this time. This means that the back-and-forth energy is sacrificed for their individual skillsets to shine more frequently; Phife’s lyricism is arguably the most ruthless of his career, and Tip and Ali’s sound-scaping is nicely left-field.
With J Dilla in on the production job, it is worth noting that the beat-making process was clearly less standard than usual. The grim sound is something untouched by Tribe up to this point, and is part of what makes this such a unique – and underrated – anomaly in their discography.
Best Tracks: “Stressed Out”, “The Hop”
4. We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (2016)
A Tribe Called Quest’s 2016 comeback was shocking for the culture. Seeing a group that dealt with so much inner turmoil and disagreement band together again as experienced veterans was almost unbelievable, and the fact they composed such a masterful project made it all the more sweet.
This album is by far their most experimental, deriving from a plethora of styles; whether it be the hard rock-influenced “We the People….” or various bits of psychedelic production, nothing here is predictable.
Despite this, the performances are comfortably top-notch; Phife sounds hungrier than ever, and Tip and Ali’s production ability is unsurprisingly mature. Jarobi’s smooth rapping style is a great switch-up to the chemistry, and the several features prevent the experience from drying out.
All in all, it’s bound to be a classic, if it isn’t considered one already. A great finish to a fantastic career, and the fact it even ranks this low only speaks for how excellent their catalogue is.
Best Tracks: “We the People….”, “Dis Generation”
3. People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990)
Debut albums are typically not perfect, but rather an example of what to expect from an artist with potential.
Tribe, however, nailed their style from the get go. Instinctive Travels is a wondrous, colorful pot of afrocentric pride and creativity, with ties to jazz music that hip-hop had not seen. The Native Tongues collective had always taken a noticeably alternative approach, but this – alongside De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising – were the biggest initial game-changers because of the new ideas they popularized.
Most of the performances are from Q-Tip, as Phife had not yet dedicated himself to a rap career. This causes the album to be naturally adventurous and mellow; something no other Tribe album can brag about. For that reason, it’s an unforgettable gem in their catalogue.
Best Tracks: “Footprints”, “Go Ahead in the Rain”
2. Midnight Marauders (1993)
At this point in their career, the group had been established and hit the “comfortable” point. This is often where artists could either experiment and impose an interesting direction, or they fall flat and start creating rather underwhelming records.
Tribe decided to take the moodiness of The Low End Theory and flip it around, with a bounciness recognizable by even the most basic hip-hop fans. The one-of-a-kind cover and plethora of vibrant standouts are enough to place it among the 90’s most iconic albums, but what is really worth noting is how nicely competitive the energy was.
Phife peaked on here, with a wide array of fantastic verses laced with bars. He kept Tip on his toes, and the smooth vs. rugged contrast couldn’t be more satisfying. This could easily pass as their best on any given day, but it was only shafted to no. 2 for one reason…
Best Tracks: “We Can Get Down”, “Electric Relaxation”
1. The Low End Theory (1991)
…that being that, this masterpiece exists.
This album is nothing short of revolutionary. Not only is it one of the most integral hip-hop albums, but it is a clear essential in music overall. Its change to the industry’s landscape is something not many records could achieve, but this defined a cultural movement.
The lax subject matter, smooth production, and flawless chemistry add up to form an experience like no other, throwing you into the community of Queens, New York. The album feels like a torch that lit a fire in the scene, setting standards for hip-hop groups and chill rappers alike.
The album’s sequencing is calm and seamless, being full of quick – but fulfilling – tracks. By the time you hit the revolutionary outro “Scenario”, you’re satisfied with such a flavorful album; one that serves as the peak of one of the greatest runs hip-hop has ever gotten to embrace.
Best Tracks: “Scenario”, “Jazz”