There are few groups in the history of hip-hop to have such wide-bearing, unmistakable influence as A Tribe Called Quest. With their early work basically introducing the idea of jazz rap, as well as introducing The Ummah (and Dilla), as WELL as being a key player in the landmark Native Tongues movement, there aren’t many facets of the genre that don’t have Tribe’s DNA coursing through it. With 30 years having passed since the release of their iconic debut album, repress has offered up the 30 best cuts from their storied career.
– milo.

30. God Lives Through (Midnight Marauders, 1993)

Considering how absolutely diamond the first three Tribe albums are, the amount of deep cuts on this list should come as no surprise. Closing out Midnight Marauders, God Lives Through, not nearly as spiritual as the title suggests, wraps up the album brilliantly, interpolating the “Oh my gAd!” sample from the track of the same name over a sweet guitar-based beat. Putting it a cut above, however, is one of Phife’s most underrated verses, covering the themes of the album and dropping immortal quotables like “I’ll dissect you like a fraction” and, of course, “I’d eat that ass like quiche” — quite.
– milo.

29. Youthful Expression (People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, 1990)

Dropping into the iconic debut straight after the ultimate double trouble that is Bonita Applebum and Can I Kick it?, this could’ve easily been a dismissed deep-cut. However, flowing straight out of the latter’s humorous whimsy into more humorous whimsy works fine here, and it plays a gratifying continuation of the fun. Lovingly peppered with cartoon-like piano samples, helium-induced lyrical ramblings and lines like “get the force, like Wan Kenobi“, it sounds just like the title suggests and it’s got enough youthful energy to power a rocket — albeit, a very chilled out rocket, but a rocket nonetheless.
– reuben.

28. Butter (The Low End Theory, 1991)

People’s Instinctive Travels and Q-Tip’s fun-loving reign coming to an end, Phife grabs the mic and shovels the aggression as the driving force of the group’s darker sophomore record. Following in Buggin’ Out‘s footsteps, there’s an almost sub-level bass rumbling across the bottom layer of this track’s beat, and alongside the shattering snare hits it complements Phife’s propulsive delivery perfectly. True too, that rhythm’s smoOOoOTh like butter.
– reuben.

27. Ego (We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service…, 2016)

Over the two discs and 16 tracks on We Got It From Here…, Tribe took back their legacy, closing out their career on an unsurmountable high, once again capturing that magic from their initial run. This is thanks to the renewed chemistry between the MCs, the inherently political heart of it and the modernisation of the style they pioneered. Ego, however, is pure classic Quest, with the Low End-era double-bass samples dropping an ominous cloud over the space, cut through with a roaring Jack White solo.
– milo.

26. Push it Along (People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, 1990)

The first song from the first album will always be looked back on fondly, especially for a group like Tribe, especially for an album like People’s and especially for a track like Push It Along. Talk about establishing a sound to define, there are elements of this track that you can find on their last album; goes to show that if ain’t broke why fix it. Boasting one of the strongest hooks on a debut full of them, Push It Along‘s subdued optimism will earworm itself in your head for days; that’s if the catchy instrumental doesn’t first, of course.
– milo.

25. Sucka Nigga (Midnight Marauders, 1993)

With a title that I won’t be repeating (outside of quotation purposes) for obvious reasons, Sucka Nigga is a celebration of the word that 11.5% of us daren’t say. Q-Tip’s infatuation with the word is well-documented here, his enthusiasm translated through history and commentary, making it one of his most interesting sets of lyrics. The hook flows with ease over one of the funkiest basslines the MC has ever hopped on.
– milo.

24. We Can Get Down (Midnight Marauders, 1993)

Once again a fine example of how Midnight Marauders is packed with some of the finest album cuts in hip-hop history, We Can Get Down packs more dope flows and another funky, feel-good instrumental to leave a smile on yer face. Echoing other tracks on the album, such as Award Tour, with its sunny key samples, the song’s sticky hook and boom-bap drums are pure 90s hip-hop bliss.
– milo.

23. Ham ‘N’ Eggs (People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, 1990)

Characterised by a fluttering instrumental as much funky as it is fun, snare rim hits, hard kick beats and little guitar licks alike, Ham ‘N’ Eggs is exactly what I keep coming back to People’s Instinctive Travels for. While perhaps not quite the best example of it (you’ll see later on…), this fervently silly selection of floating narratives about dietary choices, punctuated by the excellent instrumental and smacks to the face like Tip shouting “BRIDGE” out of nowhere followed by a break of irreverent musical nonsense, represents the cheerfully esoteric atmosphere residing throughout Tribe’s debut record, and represents it well.
– reuben.

22. Rap Promoter (The Low End Theory, 1991)

Carrying on with Tip’s themes of “these industry fellas are little bit untrustworthy I reckon”, Rap Promoter sees the Abstract flexing his artistic independence over anyone who tries to take advantage, over some phat drums, muted guitars and that muddy bass sample that puts the Low End in the Theory. Diggy-dang-diggy-dang-di-dang-di-dang-diggy-diggy, indeed.
– milo.

21. Clap Your Hands (Midnight Marauders, 1993)

Probably one of the best merging points between Low End and Midnight Marauders, Clap Your Hands (stuck unfairly in between two of the group’s biggest singles in the track listing) has that mellow sample, albeit with that dark, eerie undertone that makes the second album such a compelling listen. Ali Shaheed-Muhammed is the star of this one, no doubt, cutting the hook up like he’s got trumpet scissors.
– milo.

20. Show Business (The Low End Theory, 1991)

Despite only dropping in at no.20 on this list, this has one of the biggest, funkiest instrumentals in Tribe’s entire discography. Playfully masking a sardonic protest against industry rule number-four-thousand-and-eighty (record company people are shady – as they go on to tell us in Check the Rhime) is a boisterous rhythm section and a bassline as loud and bouncing as Phife’s delivery, ending up pretty well summing up the departure from the abstract positivity we knew and loved in People’s Instinctive Travels to the more in-your-face style present in Low End Theory through that intelligent juxtaposition between meaning and sound.
– reuben.

19. Conrad Tokyo (We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, 2016)

Not content with being some kind of nostalgia act, Conrad Tokyo is A Tribe Called Quest still being on the cutting edge, over 25 years after the fact. Phife helms the first verse of this thing and, as a Phife Dawg opener often will, it’s genius. Likely to be one of the most cutting, eloquent takedowns of Trump, at least during his nightmarish tenure as President, it’s conscious hip-hop at its most direct. The instrumental is blend of all their 90s output, plus Tip’s solo work, plus influence from the most exciting voices in modern hip-hop; the most exciting of which drops a fire-hot verse in the mid-point of this thing, Kendrick Lamar. It’s amazing to see the full circle; two all-time titans, decades apart, murdering it.
– milo.

18. The Infamous Date Rape (The Low End Theory, 1991)

To characterise the darker consciousness of The Low End Theory, this sobering indictment of rape culture comes at a time when you had hardly anyone making music on the matter, especially in hip-hop. Perhaps some of it hasn’t dated pristinely, but Tip and Phife offer up plain, if still poignant, commentary on the matter. The jazz samples on this, even moreso than the rest of the album, are seedy and lurid, matching the topic in pure sleaziness, pulling from that side of jazz/night culture.
– milo.

17. We the People (We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, 2016)

Oh just imagine. Tip and Phife had not been on good terms, Tribe hadn’t done nothin’ for 27 years, Phife had died in that time, and their swansong was gonna be The Love Movement — oh lord. Then this drops, and that beat drops. Hip-hop-heads the world over broke their neck on that beat the first time they heard — and, no wonder, the motherfucker slaps. Tip opens with some cutting attacks on society, with an utterly sardonic hook — oop is that Phife? It IS Phife and he rocks the mic from beyond the grave on the first of many career-best verses on We Got it from Here. Pure magic.
– milo.

16. Oh My God (Midnight Marauders, 1993)

The final single from Midnight Marauders, Oh My God, with the Busta sample on the hook, is textbook Tribe. The instrumental is jazzy, groovy and funky — all very important, with a nimble bassline and bouncy horn samples on the chorus. Phife and Tip both deliver golden verses, with the former being on peak form as the ‘funky diabetic’.
– milo.

15. Description of a Fool (People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, 1990)

If you’re gonna go funky, you might as well go Roy Ayers funky. Running away (get it?) with the Ayers track of the same name, Description of a Fool boasts one of the best put-together songs on the debut. Over this, Tip’s in prime storyteller-mode, with descriptive observations, engaging lyricism and witty one-liners. His flow here is also one of his best, delivering a fluid rhyme scheme that rides on the beats with ease.
– milo.

14. Jazz (We Got) (The Low End Theory, 1991)

With a hook that also functions as somewhat of a tagline for the group, Jazz is the modus operandi of The Low End Theory — they got the jazz. It’s not just hot air, either, as the airy, atmospheric instrumental has a smoky lounge feel to it, cut through with the crisp snares on the beat. Much like the best tracks in their discography, Tip & Phife ooze chemistry, with both MCs trading bars, ad-libs and ripping composed flows in their own right.
– milo.

13. Electric Relaxation (Midnight Marauders, 1993)

One of the group’s biggest fan favourites, Electric Relaxation is all about that smoooooth jam, with Tip busting out some of his slickest verses since Bonita. And it’s no wonder, when faced with such a groovy, mellow beat, it’s hard to not get a bit flirty with it. Providing a sharp contrast, Phife is full of energy on this one, dropping one-liners that would be sleazy coming from literally anyone else — but the Five-Footer has the sheer charisma to pull it off.
– milo.

12. Steve Biko (Stir it Up) (Midnight Marauders, 1993)

The opening track of Midnight Marauders picks up where Low End left off, even if it was two years after the fact. Featuring some of the best horns the group have ever sampled, the intro shows Phife with a fresh authority; well-earned after owning the previous record. Unapologetically afro-centric and political, obvious from the hook, Tribe are sticking to what make them the legends that they are; magnetic beats, eclectic flows and concrete bars.
– milo.

11. Footprints (People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, 1990)

One of the more underrated concepts in hip-hop history, the themes of journey, questing and travels in Tribe’s debut don’t cover every track, but are the source of the spirituality on the LP. Possibly the strongest of these songs is Footprints, with Tip waxing about the titular Paths of Rhythm. The semantic fields that he employs here create this ever-moving adventure; almost a metaphor for their still-evolving sonic journey. If that wasn’t enough, the distinctly 90s instrumental (characterised by that high-pitched, G-funk-esque drone) is sunny and nostalgic, with an indescribably watery quality to it that’s refreshing even today, let alone 30 years ago.
– milo.

10. Luck of Lucien (People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, 1990)

Battering in with a smashed up sample of the La Marseillaise, you know exactly what you’re in for here — Tribe being stupid and fun, but also French! An homage to Tip’s friend and rapper Lucien Revolucien, this lands as one of the group’s most straight-up playful tracks, and it’s a joy to listen to from start to finish. Yeah, that sped-up trumpet sample is great and that beat is damn solid, but that’s not what we come to this song for. We come here for Lucien, lost adrift in America trying to convince himself that everybody loves his accent despite the fact he’s failing to pick up girls. Let’s face it, as Tip tells him, he eats snails. It’s just not gonna work.
– reuben.

9. Check the Rhime (The Low End Theory, 1991)

Considering that they’ve been best friends since they were kids back on Linden, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Q-Tip and Phife Dawg have a telepathic chemistry at their best. Vibing off a playful bassline, the two MCs are trading lines, in-jokes, ad-libs and hooks to great effect, both acting as each other’s hypeman when they’re not spitting. The production’s slick, the horn’s are crispy, the hook’s infectious. As as lead single to perhaps the best hip-hop album ever made? On point — all the time.
– milo.

8. After Hours (People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, 1990)

A strong argument for the best deep cut that Tribe ever produced, After Hours has a nocturnal edge (as suggested by the title) that acts as a welcome opposition to the heatstriken air that occupies the rest of the album. Another dynamite Muhammed turn dominates the instrumental, with the scratching being vastly underrated (it rules), while the chopped vocal samples lend themselves to jazz club vibe of it all. Tip’s verses here are, like many on People’s, relaxed, floating over the echoing toms, propped up by the crisp breakbeat and weary guitars.
– milo.

7. Can I Kick It? (People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, 1990)

Probably most people’s introduction to the verses of the Abstract and Tribe’s jazzy mix of samples, the flagship single of their original album is arguably their most iconic. While there have been some fuller, better tracks by them before and since, if Can I Kick it? is anything, it’s a showcase of what these guys are. It’s fun-loving, positive and it shows off all the early promise and prowess they’d already bestowed on their far-reaching debut, blossoming with creative instrumentation and that hook. Also, moments like “Afro-centric living is a big shrug, a life filled with *TRUMPET*” will always get me.
– reuben.

6. Bonita Applebum (People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, 1990)

Stamping its authority a track before Can I Kick it?, shoveling sexy groove and marrying it to ludicrous levels of silly, is Bonita Applebum. Cartoonish slapstick sound effects in all their glory and a smooth set of lyrics on his side, Q-Tip gets all affectionate for a girl “who happens to have a rather sizable posterior” – thanks Genius, that made me chuckle – in the most entertaining profession of love I’ve yet heard. The flirtatious and sliding instrumental sets the mood for the love profession, only to be smashed to pieces by hopeless professions like “if you need ’em, I got crazy prophylactics“. Still, he’ll kiss you where some brothers won’t, and he’s pretty damn good on that mic, so maybe he deserves a chance, huh?
– reuben.

5. Buggin’ Out (The Low End Theory, 1991)

It’s no secret that Phife Dawg was widely under-utilised on the group’s debut album, even being referred to as the “right hand man” on the intro. After the Tip-dominated Excursions, it’d seem that Low End would follow the same path — but wait. Crashing through the window like a paratrooper, “Microphone check, 1, 2, what is this?” was a mammoth statement of clout from the Phifer, succeeding this line with one of the most iconic verses in hip-hop history. The bassline is swampy, the beats are fresh and Tip delivers some fine bars, but this is Phife’s moment through and through.
– milo.

4. Award Tour (Midnight Marauders, 1993)

However, if we’re talking clout, you can’t get clout..ier than the first single from Midnight Marauders. Taking two years off since Low End skyrocketed the group to legend status, it seems like Tribe have been living up, basking in their rightfully-earned glory on the titular Award Tour. With bright, vivid instrumental behind them, Tip and Phife further prove that the first two records weren’t a fluke, with the latter dropping one of his all-time hottest verses — Buddy, buddy, buddy, all up in ya fAce. Consider my ears thoroughly marauded.
– milo.

3. Excursions (The Low End Theory, 1991)

One of, if not, the greatest album opener in hip-hop history? Most fucking likely. You only need to watch a live video to see how that criminally dexterous bassline will send the masses into hysteria. As much as The Low End Theory is often touted as the “Phife album” (we’ve done nothing to change that, mind), it’s worth remembering that one of its most iconic tracks is the Abstract at his most Abstract-iest. The verses are dense and wordy, like only Tip can pull off, exploring the artist’s history with jazz and afrocentrism — two things that have obviously influenced him massively. Of course, it helps that the track he’s rapping over is funky enough to put you in a neck brace — then bop so hard that it falls off again.
– milo.

2. I Left My Wallet in El Segundo (People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, 1990)

Toppling classics and works of genius alike, confidently bumbling in at number two is the band’s very first single, which, aside from that fact, would seemingly play like an innocuous deep-cut amongst the brilliant ruckus that is their debut record. But it’s that seemingly innocuous atmosphere that makes this track so special. That kind of momentous acumen present in a track like Excursions is far from present here, but that’s the beauty of it. Let Q-Tip tell you a story about how he accidentally left his wallet in some food station in El Segundo and revel in spades of blissful, carefree silly and an infectious sense of fun, which, to me, best sums up Tribe’s positive, abstract take on hip-hop. Portrayed perfectly by the whimsically tongue-in-cheek music video, the song is exactly that to a T, with Q-Tip slinging narrative hip-hop writing at its finest, while his delivery is effortlessly entertaining. Encapsulating that joyous story-telling is a clattering, groovy rhythm owing to an aptly chosen Let’s Get Funky sample, and as Tip’s delivery is effortlessly entertaining, so are the constant breaks into dumb chit-chatters and the such littering proceedings, adding character wherever Tip’s lyrics aren’t present.
– reuben.

1. Scenario (The Low End Theory, 1991)

Calling Scenario the ultimate posse cut is still an insult to its greatness. As much of a compliment as that is, the closing track from The Low End Theory is the one of the most high-octane, well-produced, no-hold-barred pieces of rap music ever made; coming from the same fellas who did Bonita Applebum. Colliding with Voltron-like fervor on the boom-bap beat, Tribe and Leaders of the New School throw all their hottest bars in melting pot but they were so hot that the melting pot melted — it’s that fire. Every verse here is gold, with Phife’s especially being underrated (it’s very good), but Busta. It was the verse that launched him, and for good reason. Probably the best verse put to record, absurdly well-written with a performance that’ll blow Shamu out of the water. It is a firework set off with a stick of dynamite.
– milo.

There we have it, the greatest hits from Tribe’s rock-solid discography. Drop us a line if you have some other picks, you know the number.

– milo + reuben.

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