Weekly updates:


No Country for Old (Rap) Men: A Tribe Called Quest’s Last Hurrah

What is ATCQ's final album actually going to sound like? Robbie hypothesises.

Posted by

What exactly might a final album from A Tribe Called Quest, recorded with all four original members earlier this year before the untimely passing of Phife, have to offer dedicated rap fans a full 18 years after the underwhelming Love Movement? It’s a given that there will be an unreleased J. Dilla beat or three on there, given his involvement with the group’s fourth and fifth albums, and the chance to pour out a lil’ liquor to the last recorded moments from the Dawg—but what else might it offer?

As a young rap fan, all I had to go by was the credits and shout-outs on the back of records. As a result, I assumed that Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi handled the music while Q-Tip did the rapping with some assistance from Phife. When I eventually discovered that it was basically the Q-Tip Show with a few of his buddies helping out, that changed my perspective on the crew in a fairly dramatic way. Not better or worse necessarily, just…different. Based on that logic, is it fair to expect a continuation of the sound that Tip showcased on The Renaissance? Unfortunately, I doubt it. That LP was released eight years ago, so The Abstract is likely on some whole other shit by now.

But what of the other members of this beloved quartet? Mr. Muhammad began branching out around 1992 when he remixed BDP’s ‘We In There’ and provided the Fu-Schnickens with three of the best beats on their debut (for those of you too young to remember, the Fu’s were like a cross between the corniest parts of Das-EFX and the Wu-Tang Clan. Achievements included rapping in a flying Chinese take-out box and making a song with Shaq-Fu). Other credits include Young MC, the aforementioned Shaq Attack, Da Bush Babees, D’Angelo and a bunch of punk smoove shit soul artists. Ali was also a third of Lucy Pearl with Dawn from En Vogue and Raphael Saadiq, if that kind of thing is important to you, and released a solo album in 2003 titled Shaheedullah And Stereotypes which I still haven’t bothered to listen to but no doubt provides excellent background music at dinner parties. If anybody is likely to recruit some ‘sangers’ for the new Tribe album, it’s this guy. Which is not something that I generally approve of, in case you weren’t here earlier.

The late, great Phife Dawg embarked on a solo career once Q-Tip pulled the plug on the ol’ Quest gravy train, which resulted in 2000’s Ventilation LP on German label Groove Attack. Thanks to help from Pete Rock, Hi-Tek and Supa Dave West it was a pleasant enough excursion, but not engrossing enough for me to buy a copy, which is the only litmus test that I can personally rely on. A dedicated sports fan, Phife was the ultimate team player and really seemed to shine brightest when sharing rapping duties with Q-Tip, suggesting that the sessions which they reportedly laid down together at the start of 2016 may have spurned on Phife to something resembling his career best, or as close to that as his poor health at the time would have allowed.

The most intriguing piece of the puzzle is the ever-elusive Jarobi, who performed with the group in their early days but didn’t seem to have any involvement in the actual recording process beyond those skits on People’s Instinctive Travels In The Paths of Rhythm. Perhaps he just slept on the couch in the studio and provided that little something ‘extra’, as Rick Rubin did for Jay Z’s Magna Carta Samsung smart phone soundtrack. It turns out that Jarobi pursued a career as a chef until deciding to return to music and form the group Evitan (‘native’ backwards, geddit?) with Dres of Black Sheep fame. I can’t recall anything about their Speed of Life album from 2012, but that may be more on account of heroic levels of booze intake on my part rather than any creative shortcomings on their part.

If I was a betting man – which I most certainly am not, since the buck that bought the Lotto could struck a bottle, to paraphrase that guy who liked to gaze out of his project window in QB – I would wager that the final album from A Tribe Called Quest will comprise of one part unreleased Jay Dee instrumentals, one part Neo Soul warblings, a recipe sheet of Jarobi’s favorite snacks while hitchhiking and a 15-minute spoken-word song from Q-Tip where he name drops all the Hollywood stars and jazz legends he had dinner with last week. That being said, if amongst that lot the fellas are able to muster up even a couple of tracks that leave nineties rap tragics misty-eyed, then it all would have been worth it. As for myself, I’ll just pretend it’s not happening and carry on my merry way. Denial is nine tenths of reality and all that…

Weekly updates