The sudden and shocking death of Phife Dawg was one of the notable deaths in the unusually solemn year of music. The shocking finality of his death inspired the rest of the Tribe members to finally return from their sixteen-year hiatus and drop the critically acclaimed Thank You 4 Your Service… We Got It From Here. It was widely believed that this would be the Tribe’s closing act, but Q-Tip has hinted that they might not yet be done. TY4YS… is another example of why this group was so influential in hip-hop. Not only are they jazz rap pioneers, but they have a significant chemistry that sounds unusually fluid. This dynamic is something that they crafted since the group first started rapping 26 years ago.
A People’s Instinctive Travels and The Paths of Rhythm (they also have an annoying knack with naming albums that are super long) is similar to their most recent. First, it’s the only two that feature Jarobi White, a member of the Tribe who left after their debut. It’s also defined by the fact that not only are the albums feats in themselves, but they are also very good. Their debut was a brand-new, laid-back approach to rap that featured some of the best jazz infused beats in all of hip-hop. In contrast, not only was their latest album a testimony to their influence and a tribute to Phife Dawg, but it was one of the best albums of 2016. All this is to say, to be influential, you have to be heard; and on A People’s Instinctive Travels and The Paths of Rhythm, the Tribe were heard for their newly shaped sound that would be present for years to come.
1. In “Push It Along”, Q-Tip mimics the beat by saying “the boom – bip… the boom-bip”. I think he’s the first guy ever to do that which is dope. The samples are courtesy of Grover Washington Jr., and they are crazy smooth. This was the first example of Tip’s excellent crate digging ability.
2. Would have liked to hear a little more Phife, though. I love when he comes in and says, “Put one up for the Phifer” in “Push It Along”. His verses aren’t excellent or anything but he does have a voice that suits this production.
3. “Can I Kick It” has the prototypical mellow vibe and is arguably the best song on the album. I don’t know who comes in singing with a long “ooh” sound followed by a faint “Can I kick it?” followed by another long “ooh” sound, but it’s one of the best moments on the album.
4. “Bonita Applebum” is immensely overrated, though. I’ll admit the sound is sexy, but Tip’s lines are corny. It’s nice and all, but Shea Serrano had this as #1 on the most important rap song of 1990. Fear of A Black Planet was that year dawg, take your pick.
5. “Go Ahead In The Rain” is the anti-Applebum, an often overlooked song with a beat that straight cooks. Peep the sample here.
7. The downfall here is obviously the lyricism, not that I necessarily have a problem with it. The beats and Q-Tip’s flow has a pleasant sound to it; making it easy to ignore the actual words. However, if you’re one who plays close attention to the lyrics then you probably wouldn’t be too impressed with Q’s series of bars in “Left My Wallet…”: “It was a nice little pub in the middle of nowhere / Anywhere would have been better / I ordered enchiladas and I ate ‘em / Ali had the fruit punch”. What the hell? Why did he suddenly just decide to not rhyme?
8. The ‘fool’ murmuring in the backdrop of Q-Tip’s verses is pretty cool too. “Description Of A Fool” has a really fun “Sly” sample and some great drums. Great way to close out the album with that loop and the occasional crashing claps.
9. This album is fun in a darker and jazzier way than De La Soul’s debut 3 Feet High And Rising. Those two albums are often seen as the pillars of the Native Tongues movement, and both groups released critically acclaimed albums this year.
For a more detailed look at their influence, you can peep the True Too article on the revitalization of the Native Tongues. You can also stream A People’s Instinctive Travels below on Spotify.