A Tribe Called Quest: 20 Essential Songs

R.I.P. Phife Dawg: Revisit pioneering New York rap crew's best tracks

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"Excursions" (1991)

The opening track of the jazz-flecked The Low End Theory was one of hip-hop's great statements of purpose, with the crew connecting musical dots between different eras of radical music. Q-Tip took a 6/8 hard-bop lick from Jazz Messengers bassist Mickey Bass and flipped it until it bounced along in hip-hop's funky 4/4. Tribe sample O.G. hip-hop pioneers the Last Poets "("time is running and passing, passing and running") the same way that avowed Tribe fan Kanye West would use Gil-Scott Heron at the end of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. In Q-Tip's lyrics, rap is like the bebop that Q-Tip's dad listened to, Bobby Brown is amping like Michael, and the abstract poet is prominent like Shakespeare or Langston Hughes.

"There were a couple of other groups that were sampling jazz at that time," Ali Shaheed Muhammad told Nextbop.com. "Gang Starr, Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth, Main Source … but I think the way that we delivered it was in such a way that had not really been done." As Q-Tip told Brian Coleman in Check the Technique: "At the time, there were some things happening in hip-hop, sonically, that I wanted to expand on, especially with the bottom. … I would always explain how dynamic I wanted things to be by telling Bob [Power, engineer], 'I want this to be more at the bottom, at the low end.' I guess it was a lack of articulation but it got the job done. And that's where the title came from."

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