As a 9th Grader in High School, I would take long walks dribbling my basketball around the neighborhood with a walkman tape player blasting. Early memories of Run DMC, EPMD and Ice Cube come to mind. Their tapes got the most run in my walkman until one day, everything changed. A relatively unknown group at the time who affectionately went by A Tribe Called Quest released a video for their first single, “I Left My Wallet In El Segundo”. The title of the song caught my attention more than the actual song, because my favorite TV Show is Sanford and Son. If you watched Sanford and Son, you know Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx) referenced El Segundo on the show often. It was always mentioned as a joke and somewhere Godzilla was going to destroy. At any rate, the video was funny, creative and the lead MC had a voice that also caught my attention. I would learn soon after that his name was Q-Tip.
I often talk about how an artist voice can carry them because if you have a dope voice, you can always sound fresh over a beat. A few months after A Tribe Called Quest debut single hit the airwaves; the song that literally changed my life was released. I went to visit a childhood friend and as we played video games in his basement, he hit play on his stereo, the song “Bonita Applebum” found a place in my mental library where it remains forever. This was during the summer of 1990. I was honestly mesmerized by the song. Q-Tip was the only vocalist on the track and his voice was a perfect match with the beat. Q-Tip immediately became my favorite MC. Before Q-Tip took the title, it was a combination of Rakim, Run (of Run DMC fame), Ice Cube (I was still listening to AmerKKKa’s Most Wanted religiously) and Special Ed. I believe this was one of the first songs I made a concerted effort to memorize. Before “Bonita Applebum”, the songs that I knew word for word were “I Got It Made”, “I Ain’t No Joke” and “30 Days” by Run DMC.
During the summer of 1990, I listened to A Tribe Called Quest debut album People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm on a daily basis. They were now my new favorite rap group as well. On the debut, Q-Tip pretty much carried the entire project by himself. At the time this was fine because I thought he was so dope. Over the next few years A Tribe Called Quest would released The Low End Theory (1991), Midnight Marauders (1993), Beats, Rhymes and Life (1996) and by the time the group was starting to fizzle out, The Love Movement (1998) was created with the guys basically sending tracks to each other. For perspective, I basically listened to Q-Tip and Tribe from 9th Grade until I graduated College in 1998. I played ball, studied and exercised to their music. Q-Tip and Phife Dawg (who came on strong on The Low End Theory and took Tribe to another level) embodied Hip Hop to the fullest. Much respect to Ali and Jarobi. Q-Tip’s talent is consistently underrated outside of his work with A Tribe Called Quest and it’s unfortunate how overlooked his accomplishments and contributions to the culture remain.
Before going solo after The Love Movement, Q-Tip created a “Sound” that influenced some of your favorite Producers. Ask Pharrell, Kanye West and Havoc about Q-Tip. The late J.Dilla is often regarded as one of the greatest producers of all time was heavily influenced by Q-Tip’s style of making beats. It’s funny that most Rap Fans didn’t know Q-Tip made the beats for Tribe. On their records it always stated, produced by A Tribe Called Quest. I actually thought Ali Shaheed Muhammad made the beats. Ali was really the DJ, but he could make beats. Ali produced for his group Lucy PearI with Raphael Saadiq and Dawn from En Vogue. As for Tribe, I didn’t know Q-Tip made this incredible music until later on. Q-Tip could make a Jazz inspired track like “Jazz (We’ve Got It)” and then create “Crooklyn Dodgers” (Feat. Buckshot, Masta Ace and Special Ed) without missing a step. I remember in 1995 listening to Mobb Deep’s album The Infamous at an intoxicating rate. At the time I had no idea that Q-Tip was recruited to assist Havoc and Prodigy with putting this masterpiece together. Havoc talked about the studio sections in the past. Q-Tip produced 3 of my favorite tracks on the album which are “Give Up The Goods”, “Drink Away the Pain”, and one of the best Rap Songs I’ve ever heard in “Temperatures Rising”. Wow man, just wow. In addition to the tracks I already listed, you should check out Apache’s “Gangster Bitch”, Craig Macks “Get Down (Remix)”, NAS “One Love” off Illmatic, Mariah Carey “Honey”, and “Tomorrow” by John Legend. The list goes on and on but I think you get the point now. Outside of Tribe, Q-Tip rapped on tracks like “Groove is in the Heart” by Deee Lite, which was a huge dance hit in the 90’s and also cuts with The Beastie Boys, De La Soul, The Roots, Busta Rhymes, Kanye West and a who’s who of Hip Hop. Q-Tip is a legend.
To be a musical genius, you have to be a little crazy as well. Q-Tip is known to be a perfectionist like Dr. Dre, which can be a gift or curse depending on who you ask. Q-Tip and Phife Dawg’s rocky relationship was not a secret and was on showcase during the Documentary Beats, Rhymes and Life. Q-Tip has also never been fond of the “Music Business” and attacked the “Industry” through his music and interviews. Who can forget “Industry Rule Number 4080, Record Company People are SHADY, so kids watch your back cause I think they smoke crack, I don’t doubt it, look at how they act.” Q-Tip said these rhymes while being on a record label, which is actually hilarious and CRAZY. I was in New York visiting family one weekend during the time Low End Theory was out and Q-Tip was blasting the record business live on the radio station. I will never forget that trip to New York. Later that year I saw Tribe in Concert at UNC-Charlotte. At any rate, Q-Tip has never won a Grammy Award and you can tell in his recent Instagram rant about the Grammy Awards that he still has a beef with the politics of it all. I believe he is forever bitter about what he feel is a blatant disrespect to his legacy and Tribes.
MC Love Child was renamed Q-Tip by Afrika Baby Bam of The Jungle Brothers. Ironically enough, Q-Tip’s break came when The Jungle Brothers allowed him to rhyme on “Black is Black”. Of course the rest is history as they would go on to establish the legendary Native Tongues consisting of De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, The Jungle Brothers and honorary members such as Queen Latifah, Monie Love, Black Sheep, Chi Ali and Brand Nubians. Q-Tip represents Queens and Linden Blvd to the fullest. Q-Tip found a way to be successful in the entertainment business where you have to often compromise your sound or style. Q-Tip stayed true to his music and showed diversity. I’m currently listening to “Life Is Better” featuring Nora Jones off his amazing solo LP The Renaissance. Q-Tip has always been a supporter and member of the Zulu Nation. Of course I respect the movement overall but if you know me, you know I’ve written about the indiscretions of Afrika Bambaataa, but I digress. Anyway, the way Q-Tip samples records is nothing short of amazing. You know you are in good company if Pete Rock, Large Professor, DJ Premier and other legends sing your praise. Dr. Dre once stated that The Chronic was inspired by hearing The Low End Theory and Q-Tips attention to detail.
As we come full circle in regard to the life of Q-Tip (born Johnathan Davis) aka Kamal The Abstract, can you imagine Hip Hop without A Tribe Called Quest? Can you imagine Hip Hop without “Electric Relation”, “Award Tour”, “Scenario”, “Check The Rhyme”, Bonita Applebum”, “Can I Kick It” or “Stressed Out”? I even dig the final album “We Got It From Here” even though Phife passed away. Can you imagine Illmatic without “One Love” or The Infamous without “Drink Away The Pain? If there is no Q-Tip, maybe we never see J. Dilla (became a member of The Ummah with Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad), Pharrell, Kanye West or the success of Mobb Deep’s sophomore album. Without A Tribe Called Quest, it’s possible that Souls of Mischief, Slum Village, Outkast, Black Star (Mos Def and Talib Kweli) and Little Brother never happen. You see, the family tree is monumental. Q-Tip is an MC, Producer, Actor, and Activist who also had a nice run with the ladies from what they say. Dude is a Rock Star. Who else had the late Prince come on stage and play “Vivrant Thang” on his guitar? Who else can sample the 90’s R&B Group JADE’s track “Don’t Walk Away” and in return, you get “Award Tour”? Who else can sample Minnie Riperton’s “Inside My Love” and in return, you get “Lyrics To Go”? Q-Tip is a "Deep Thinker" and it's evident in his approach to putting songs together and his underrated lyrical ability. At the end of the day, The Abstract is one of the greatest overall artists in Hip Hop History and has a place cemented in our consciousness forever.
A Tribe Called Quest & Minnie Riperton- Lyrics To Go Inside My Love