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A Tribe Called Quest

Biography

A Tribe Called Quest
Boyd/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

Following the lead of De La Soul, their friends and comrades in the "Native Tongues" rap collective, A Tribe Called Quest blazed alternative rap trails with a laid-back, witty, progressive style as well as innovative beats and enlightened lyrics that paved the way for the "jazz rap" of Digable Planets, Jungle Brothers, Us3 and other outside-the-box hip-hop artists.

Q-Tip (nee Jonathan Davis), Phife Dawg (Malik Taylor), Ali Shaheed Muhamed, and Jarobi White (who only played on the first album) met at New York City's Murray Bergtraum High School for Business Careers. Q-Tip's association with De La Soul and the Jungle Brothers and a four-song demo led to a 1989 deal with Jive Records. The singles "Description of a Fool" (1989) and "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo" (1990) were followed by their debut album, People's Instinctive Travels (Number 91, 1990), the first rap work to fuse jazz samples with hip-hop structures. A follow-up, The Low End Theory (Number 45, 1991), had a harder edge and extended the group's jazz leanings, featuring jazz great Ron Carter on upright bass. Low End's "Scenario" was a minor hit (Number 57, 1991).

In between their albums, Tribe appeared on MTV's Unplugged; Q-Tip guest-rapped on Deee-Lite's "Groove Is in the Heart" and on Lenny Kravitz and Sean Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance"; all three Tribe members contributed to the Jungle Brothers' Straight Out the Jungle and to De La Soul's "Buddy." In 1993, while Tribe was recording its third album, Ali contributed extensive production work to jazz saxophonist Greg Osby's 3-D Lifestyles. Released at the end of that year, Midnight Marauders (Number Eight pop, Number One R&B, 1993) yielded "Award Tour" (Number 47 pop, Number 27 R&B, 1993), with backing vocals by De La Soul's Trugoy the Dove.

During summer 1994, the group took the hip-hop slot in the Lollapalooza festival, and in 1996 released Beats, Rhymes and Life (Number One pop and R&B). Two years later, The Love Movement (Number Three pop and R&B) proved to be Tribe's finale. Q-Tip pursued a solo career, releasing Amplified (Number Four R&B) in 1999 and scoring hits with "Vivrant Thing" (Number 26 pop, Number Seven R&B) and "Breathe and Stop" (Number 21 R&B). He also was one of the guest vocalists on Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott's R&B chart-topper "Hot Boyz."

In 2002, Q-Tip attempted to move beyond conventional hip-hop with Kamaal the Abstract, an experimental jazz-hop album that predated OutKast's equally ambitious polyglot sound. When Arista Records, the label of both Q-Tip and OutKast, rejected Kamaal as being not commercial enough, fans created a Web-based petition to persuade the company to release the album. Q-Tip eventually retained ownership of Kamaal and another aborted Arista project, and signed with Universal Motown. He announced a 2008 release for his second official solo album, The Renaissance. In 2000, Phife Dawg released the solo album Ventilation: Da LP, which featured a track in which he criticized Q-Tip. In 1999, Ali Shaheed Muhammad joined the R&B supergroup Lucy Pearl along with former Tony! Toni! Toné member Raphael Saadiq (née Wiggins) and ex-En Vogue singer Dawn Robinson. In 2004, Muhammad released the solo album Shaheedullah and Stereotypes.

In 2006, Q-Tip, Phife and Muhammad reunited Tribe for a series of sold-out concerts in Mexico, Canada and the U.S., including a co-headlining spot at that year's Bumbershoot festival in Seattle. In 2008 ATCQ headlined the Rock the Bells tour along with Nas, De La Soul, Pharcyde and Mos Def.

Portions of this biography appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).

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