A Tribe Called Quest
Verses From the Abstract
A Tribe Called Quest’s hip-hop legacy is virtually peerless and while all the group members played a crucial role in the group’s chemistry, Q-Tip is easily the group’s most recognisable member. While Ali’s strong silent role as the DJ and mediator and Phife’s b-boy swagger were crucial in ensuring the group’s wide appeal and success, Q-Tip emerged as the group’s most charismatic presence. Now, years after the group have issued any new music or solo projects, A Tribe Called Quest are revered more than ever, while Q-Tip has managed, unlike many of his contemporaries, to remain relevant and yet restlessly creative.
Jonathan Davis (aka Q-Tip), along with the two other core members of A Tribe Called Quest, Malik "Phife” Taylor and Ali Shaheed Muhammed, is born in 1970. Phife and Q-Tip meet at age two in Queens, NY; Q-Tip’s mother attends the same church as Phife’s grandmother. Phife attends the church’s private school, which Q-Tip joins in third grade, and they become close friends. Phife, whose twin brother died at birth, is inspired to rhyme by his poet mother; he rhymes as a kid out of loneliness. Ali’s father DJs at house parties; Ali begins to DJ at eight, and to program sounds at age 13. As high school freshman, Ali notices that Q-Tip constantly rhymes "The Adventures of Super Rhymes” by Jimmy Spicer to himself; later fourth member Jarobi White bonds with Phife in 1983 over love of basketball. Q-Tip and Ali attend Manhattan’s Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers, alongside future members of hip-hop groups X-Clan and the Jungle Brothers; Phife and Jarobi regularly visit the school for basketball games.
1986 to 1988
Q-Tip (as MC Love Child), takes part in high school rap battles with Jarobi as his beatboxer and one occasion doesn’t place at all. Q-Tip’s Montserrat-born father Jonathan Davis II, whose deep love of jazz and blues influenced his son, dies of emphysema. Q-Tip becomes friendly with the Jungle Brothers and puts together a demo with DJ Flamboyant, Ali’s name at the time, using his uncle’s equipment; the song is later known as the Jungle Brothers’ "Black Is Black,” and appears on their 1988 Straight out of the Jungle debut. Through Mike G’s uncle DJ Red Alert’s industry connections, the Jungle Brothers are signed and they invite Q-Tip to appear on their debut. Q-Tip urges his friends to form a group; their crew, Crush Connection, consists of Phife, Jarobi, Ali, Q-Tip and a high school drummer named Sha. The group’s name changes to Quest before the Jungle Brothers dub them A Tribe Called Quest during a card game. "We were just in our own world,” Q-Tip recalls of his high school days. "And it wasn’t like a cockiness, it was confidence. Not to be like it was competitive, but we always tried to one up each other.” The group’s first demo, containing early versions of "Bonita Applebum” and "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” leads them to a showcase for A&R scouts. The group’s inexperience shows — Ali brings his mother’s turntable in a suitcase and Phife, a Seventh Day Adventist, shows up to the Saturday meeting in his church clothes. The showcase leads to a management deal with DJ Red Alert, then a record deal with Jive. Q-Tip meets Big Daddy Kane outside famed club the Latin Quarter; Kane invites Q-Tip and Afrika from the Jungle Brothers into his limo and lets them hear his classic single "Raw” for the first time.
The Native Tongues collective, spearheaded by the Jungle Brothers, includes ATCQ and De La Soul, who just released their debut, 3 Feet High and Rising, on which Q-Tip appears. Queen Latifah and Monie Love are also considered members of the collective, known for its Afrocentricity, positivity and penchant for obscure sampling. ATCQ begin work on their debut while Jungle Brothers record a sophomore album, and much of the pre-production is done at friend DJ Towa Tei’s house. ATCQ’s first single, "Description of a Fool” samples Roy Ayers’ "Running Away” and features Q-Tip rhyming against domestic abuse and drug dealers.
De La Soul’s debut is a groundbreaking critical and commercial success; the Native Tongues record a classic remix for "Buddy,” featuring Phife’s first-ever appearance on wax. Tribe follow up "I Left My Wallet In El Segundo” with full-length People’s Instinctive Travels in the Paths of Rhythm in April; it showcases the group’s eclectic tastes and positivity. The Source magazine gives the album 5 out of 5 (they didn’t yet hand out "mic” ratings). The album is a critical success and singles like "Bonita Applebum” do well, but the group are disappointed when the album sells just 250,000 copies, and feel that the record company’s promotion of their image, which attempts to piggyback on the psychedelic vibe of De La Soul is inappropriate. Phife learns he’s diabetic a month after the album’s release, and considers quitting the group to get a regular job. Q-Tip and Phife have a long discussion and agree to beef up Phife’s participation on their sophomore album and that they will step it up in general as a group. Jarobi does leave to study culinary arts. The group fires DJ Red Alert as their manager, signing with Russell Simmons’ Rush Management, which causes tension within the Native Tongues camp. They also fire their lawyers and face lawsuits as a result. Q-Tip appears on "Groove Is in the Heart,” a hit single for DJ Towa Tei’s group Deee-Lite.
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