A Masterful Discography: A Tribe Called Quest
Updated: Nov 25, 2022
A Tribe Called Quest is my favourite hip hop group. The group is comprised of four members: rappers Phife Dawg and Jarobi White, rapper/producer Q-Tip, and co-producer Ali Shaheed Muhammed. The group formed in 1985, and from 1990 to 2016, they released six albums, making for one of the most consistent and brilliant discographies in all music.
1. People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990)
Tribe's first album has a rustic, unpolished sound which sets it apart from the rest of their catalogue, but that is by no means an insult. People's Instinctive Travels sounds like a party with Tribe performing on stage, with Jarobi White offering interludes between tracks to hype up the audience for the next song. The production has a muddy sound full of jazz and soul samples. Q-Tip's verses are so fun and his storytelling is charming, but his energy isn't as engaging as it would be later on. Similarly, Phife Dawg is absent for much of this record, so the chemistry between Phife and Q-Tip which made A Tribe Called Quest so appealing is not on show. Nonetheless, this album is stellar, especially considering it was their debut.
2. The Low End Theory (1991)
The jump in quality from Tribe's first album to their second is extraordinary. The Low End Theory is not only one of the best jazz rap albums ever, but could be argued to be the best hip hop album in general. The production is much darker and moodier here, with a greater emphasis on jazz production with a range of groovy samples. Phife Dawg has a much larger role here. He and Q-Tip might have the best chemistry between any two rappers, bouncing off each other to create such a joyful and carefree energy from track to track. A handful of features also help out here, with 'Show Business' and 'Scenario' being some of the best posse cuts of the '90s. The lyricism on this album is a huge improvement as well, with 'Excursions', 'Buggin' Out' and 'Check the Rhime' being the most obvious highlights.
3. Midnight Marauders (1993)
Midnight Marauders is the victory lap after the success of The Low End Theory, and the quality of this one is just as high. If The Low End Theory is dark and moody, then this is bright and summery. The production here is the most upbeat and jazzy in their catalogue, and the rappers sound just as gleeful as the beats. Phife and Tip have that same perfect chemistry, and both have solo tracks to fully show off their abilities. While Tip has the smoother flow, Phife is the better storyteller, and the two work perfectly together. Hearing this, it makes it even more surprising that it was tensions between Phife and Tip which would lead to Tribe's breakup years later.
4. Beats, Rhymes & Life (1996)
With this record, it became clear that things were going on behind the scenes. In a sudden change of personnel, rapper Consequence joined the group for this project, dropping verses here and there with no introduction as though he had always been there. Furthermore, the album was produced by The Ummah - the collective of Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammed, and upcoming producer J Dilla. Because of these changes, this album is a jarring shift in sound for Tribe. It's far darker, abandoning the dense jazz production in favour of moody and spacey boom bap beats. It's not a bad record by any means, with incredible songs to be found such as 'The Hop' and 'Motivators', but it's a departure from their classic sound that not all listeners may welcome.
5. The Love Movement
The Love Movement is the worst Tribe album by a good margin. Phife Dawg's contributions are minimal outside a few select tracks (such as the excellent 'Find a Way'), and he sounds so deprived of passion. Q-Tip dominates most songs, which would be no issue if his lyricism was up to par, but this is his worst performance as well. The jazzy sound of A Tribe Called Quest is gone, replaced with a hypnotic, futuristic sound with some excellent beats from The Ummah. The features inject some life into these tracks, but they cannot save the record. When the core members sounded as though they do not care, no feature will be enough to turn it from a decent record to a good one. Phife and Q-Tip sound disinterested and unfriendly, which explains why, shortly after this album's release, A Tribe Called Quest broke up.
6. We got it from Here... Thank You 4 Your service (2016)
The group would reunite for the occasional tour, but it was not until 2016 they would release their next record. Reinvigorated, their comeback album is their best work since Midnight Marauders and, in my opinion, their best work in general. During the making of this album, however, Phife Dawg passed away due to complications from diabetes, and so the rest of the album was dedicated to him. Therefore, that makes We got it from Here a comeback album and a tribute album, but somehow, Tribe managed to pull it off. It's their most political release, with commentary on racism, wealth, and the upcoming 2016 election. While Ali Shaheed Muhammed was too busy to return, Jarobi White made his return and, for the first time, rapped in A TribeCalled Quest. He, Phife, and Q-Tip deliver some of the smoothest and most impactful verses of their careers, accompanied by a range of fantastic features from the old school and new generation. It's a celebration of hip hop, a jazzy comeback for Tribe, a touching tribute to Phife Dawg, and the perfect way to finish off the masterful discography of A Tribe Called Quest.