Timeless music is a something that becomes more and more of a relic with each passing day. Ironically, most of the today's music lives in the moment, surrounded by the hype of each passing trend. A Tribe Called Quest is one of those groups that not only defined an era beyond the golden years of hip hop, but also influenced today's artists on a much more profound level including Kanye & Pharrell. Sonically, ATCQ was a definitive and much welcomed tangent of eclectic sounds, bass- heavy rhythms with syncopation and jazz when compared to the typically mundane recycling of drum breaks, soul loops and cliche vocals of their contemporaries. Lyrically, emcees Q-Tip and Phife Dawg addressed social issues relevant to young blacks such as use of the n word and its relevance, date rape and other interpersonal relationships, industry politics and consumerism with infectious energy and fun and having a good time while still promoting positivity.
Last week, we lost Phife Dawg, lyrically, one half of one of the greatest hip hop groups of all time if not the greatest. For me, the mark he made upon my youth and hip hop culture is indelible.
The contrast between the abstract, unique flow of Tip with the sonorous, timbre of Phife's verbal essence was what really worked for Tribe to drive their impact home. It was also evident in there personas,while Q-tip was this eccentric musical genius in his own world, Phife was always the guy that represented the common man, the one that you could relate to talking in the corner. There was a boyish quality you could relate to in his voice, this enthusiasm for life that carried through to the music.
The one thing that resonated with Tribe is their relatability. It wasn't just about image, but it delved deeper into the music itself. There was intangible in Tribe's music that felt but effortless yet tirelessly created: it showed the mark of a master, yet with such a laid back, casual tone. Phife's rhymes consisted of bustin’ off on your couch (“now you got Seamen’s furniture.”) and how much he wanted to sleep with an R&B star (“I used to have a crush on Dawn from En Vogue”), and it all sounded like your brothers or your friends.
The everyday man quality of Phife didn't just help him get love from the fans, but he became the perfect foil for Qtip's Abstract expressionism.They both sounded so distinct and so different from each other, it gave the back-and-forth of classic tracks like “Electric Relaxation” and “Check the Rhime” a sense of dramatic juxtaposition, and helped them become one of the most beloved acts in hip-hop.
Through their unapologetic nature about creative music, Tribe's anomalous posture has forever changed the face and sound of hip hop, paving the way for the groups of the future, artists, and producers. With or without future recordings, ATCQs legacy lives on in the groups creative innovation that is recognized as a profound contribution to musical history