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Encore: A Tribe Called Quest Recalls Debut Album


When A Tribe Called Quest's first album hit the record stores in April 1990, it immediately stood out - even the title, "People's Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm.


MCEVERS: It was the short life's work of four guys from New York City who got together in high school - Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White. They talked about stuff like oppression, same as groups like Public Enemy. But Tribe did it in a more loose and fun way.


A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: (Rapping) Q-Tip is my title. I don't think that is vital for me to be a idol, but dig this recital. If you can't envision a brother who ain't dissin', slingin' this and that 'cause this and and that was missin'. Instead, it's been injected. The Tribe has been perfected. Oh, yes, it's been selected. The art makes it protected. Afrocentric livin', Africans be givin' a lot to the cause 'cause the cause has been risen.

MCEVERS: A couple months ago, a remastered 25th anniversary edition of that first album was released. And we're going to listening again to my talk with Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Phife Dawg about "People's Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm." Their older now, with grown-up problems, including some serious health issues Phife. That real-life stuff is something Phife says is missing in today's hip-hop.

PHIFE DAWG: We pretty much were always into being ourselves. We didn't want to be like anybody else. Back then, biting was forbidden. You pretty much get slapped up for biting.

MCEVERS: Explain biting for people who don't know what that is.

DAWG: OK. MC so-and-so has a line that he originated. Another MC comes along and takes it. Nowadays, it's pretty popular, unfortunately, but back then, that was a no-no.

MCEVERS: So yeah. You had to kind of do something that nobody else was doing, is what you're saying.

DAWG: We wouldn't have had it any other way anyway.

ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: Hip-hop, at that point in time, was a lot of James Brown-sampled music. And we wanted the sound to be a journey, and we brought forth a lot of melodic-based music, sort of that more poetic but intellectual and fun aspect of creating music.


A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: (Rapping) I left my wallet in El Segundo, left my wallet in El Segundo, left my wallet in El Segundo. I got to get it, man. I got to get it. I got - got to get it. My mother went away for a month-long trip. Her and some friends on an ocean-liner ship. She made a big mistake by leaving me home. I had to roam, so I picked up the phone. Dialed Ali up to see what was going down, told him I pick him up so we could drive around.

MCEVERS: Yeah, one of the things the critics talk about a lot about this album is that it's fun, right? You were, like, talking about girls, talking about, I don't like to eat ham and eggs, you know, talking about losing your wallet.

MUHAMMAD: But it was real-life stuff, you know? When you're 18 - actually "Bonita Applebum" was written when we were 15, you know? But it was an infatuation-type song but in a flirty, fun way. And, you know, if you're 18, 15, 31, you still may have an attraction to someone...


MUHAMMAD: ...And you want to find a way to express it and to connect.


A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: (Rapping) Hey, Bonita, glad to meet you. For the kind of stunning newness, I must beseech you. Hey, being with you is a top priority. Ain't no need to question the authority.

MCEVERS: The album has been remastered. There are also some remixes by J. Cole, CeeLo Green and Pharrell. He redid the song "Bonita Applebum." Let's hear the new version.


A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: (Rapping) Hey, Bonita, glad to meet you. For the kind of stunning newness, I must beseech you. Hey, being with you is a top priority. Ain't no need to question the authority.

MCEVERS: What do you think about this new one?

MUHAMMAD: I think it's good. It has a relationship with the now. But still, it does it in a tasteful way where it connects with the original which, again, had that chill, sort of melodic aspect to it.

DAWG: It's definitely cool. When I first heard it, I didn't know what to think. It was kind of difficult 'cause I was so used to the other two so much.


DAWG: I mean, 25 years is, you know - he did a good job.


A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: (Rapping) Bonita Applebum, you got to put me on. Bonita Applebum, I said you got to put me on.

MCEVERS: Twenty-five years - this record captured a moment in time. Is that a moment in time that you think people still want to hear?

MUHAMMAD: I think so. The backdrop of hip-hop in the genre right now - some of it is a little humdrum. It's a little monotonous. And there are a group of a younger generation that wants more, and they're looking for those innovators to bring and deliver something different and fresh. And so that's the exact way that this album was created, with this same sort of setting and backdrop, where hip-hop was sort of humdrum. People were doing sort of the same thing. So some people may say, oh, that's old. But it's good old.

MCEVERS: (Laughter).


A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: (Rapping) Bridge.

MCEVERS: You know, listening back to this original album, are there things that either of you hear that you think, I would've done that differently?

DAWG: My voice. I hated my voice back then.

MCEVERS: Really, why?

DAWG: That's the - yeah, I absolutely hate that high-pitch Mr. Dinkins...

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

DAWG: I hated my voice back then. So if there was one thing I could do over, it would definitely be that.

MCEVERS: And just have the deep voice that you have now 25 years later.

DAWG: Yeah, you know, little Billy Dee on them, you know?


A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: (Rapping) Can I kick it to my tribe that flows in layers? Right now, Phife is a poem sayer. At times, I'm a studio conveyor. Mr. Dinkins, would you please be my mayor? You'll be doing us a really big favor. Boy, this track really has a lot of flavor. When it comes to rhythms, Quest is your savior. Follow us for the funky behavior.

MCEVERS: Phife, you have had some struggles with your health over the years with diabetes, and you had a kidney transplant, right?

DAWG: Yep.

MCEVERS: How are you doing?

DAWG: I'm doing fine. I'm on a list to get another one - another kidney that is. But other than that, I'm doing fine. I really, really can't complain. I could, but I won't because God is really, really a good God, and I owe it all to him, you know?

MCEVERS: How has that experience made you think about, you know, the music and your commitment to it?

DAWG: When I was on the list from 2004 to 2008 waiting to get a kidney, I wasn't thinking about music, honestly, like...


DAWG: I thought it was over. I figured I'd maybe produce and put artists on or whatever, but as far as being on stage behind the mic, I really wasn't thinking about it. I really wasn't looking into that. Now I'm back in it full-fledged.


MCEVERS: Phife Dawg, thank you very much, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, also, thank you.

DAWG: Aw, you're welcome.


A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: (Rapping) Can I kick it? Yes, you can. Can I kick it?

MCEVERS: Phife, can you do me a huge favor? I just need you to say one thing - microphone check - one, two. What is this? (Laughter).

DAWG: Exactly. That's exactly what I was thinking.

MCEVERS: You knew I was going to say that.

DAWG: Should I do the voice?

MCEVERS: (Laughter) Yeah, yeah, yeah - the voice you hate?

DAWG: Microphone check - one, two. What is this?


MCEVERS: Yes, you just made my life. Thank you so much.


A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: (Rapping) Come and spread your arms if you really need a hug. Afrocentric living is a big shrug, a life filled with - that's what I love. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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