Back in 1990, when I picked up People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rythm on a whim, when I look back on that moment it was almost like destiny. The union of Q-Tip (John Davis at the time), Ali-Shaheed Muhammed, Jarobi and Phife was eccentric and a breath of fresh air. And just when you thought you had them figured out…. just when you were ready to slap the label of hippie/bohemian/peace-sign wearing rappers on the group, they seemingly come out of nowhere with one of the most incredible follow-ups, The Low End Theory.
It’s funny. The thing that I remember most about that time is that all of the “Native Tongues” rappers (Queen Latifah, Quest, De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, Black Sheep, Monie Love) were stamped with the hippie label — each to varying degrees. I remember when De La Soul released the follow up to their highly successful debut album 3 Feet High and Rising. I actually dug De La Soul is Dead. As a follow up, it was original and some of the tracks are classics in their own right. But what I recall most was how much time they spent on the album trying to convince the audience that they weren’t the hippies that people thought they were in 3 Feet High. One of my favorite English teachers always encouraged me not to tell the audience what you’re going to write — but just to write it. Don’t say, “In my essay, I will prove…” A good essay doesn’t need to provide the reader with it’s intentions. And just like that, The Low End Theory showed the fans who the real Quest was. Yes, they were the same group that had the original and eccentric style you heard in People’s Instinctive Travels. But they also had versatility as they proved in that classic follow up.
Unfortunately personal issues seemed to get in the way of progress. I loved the third album Actually that might be my favorite behind The Low End Theory. Moving forward, however, I noticed a loss of momentum and creativity in Beats Rhymes and Life. The innovative edge was slipping away. Q-Tip and Phife weren’t complimenting each other in tracks as they normally did…. it was almost like the last OutKast album where Andre and Big Boi recorded completely separate CDs. But where Andre and Big Boi understood that they might stand to make more money as a group (even recording separate projects) Quest decided that it was time to hang it up. And in 1998 after the release of The Love Movement (probably their most forgettable album to date), they called it quits.
Quest was probably my all time favorite group. The kind of group whose album you reach for without even hesitating. Bad reviews and all. It’s a shame that they left the hip-hop game at a time when artists started seeing real money. Almost like thinking back to Hank Aaron leaving baseball just as multi-million dollar contracts were being signed. Phife went on to do a solo album (Ventilation — not bad). Q-Tip acted in a few movies, made a few guest appearances on albums and released one solo album. (Q-tip had a follow up to the solo, but it “leaked” all over the net. See my other post for my feelings on album leaks.) And Ali-Shaheed went on to several projects including working with Mint Condition and being part of the band Lucy Pearl.
Looking at the mess that is hip-hop now, sometimes I’ll go on a rant and talk about how I wish that the real cats would reclaim this from all the finger-snap track producing garbage that’s on shelves today. There’s a part of me that wanted Quest to come back on the scene and completely blow up the spot. So you can imagine that it was much to my surprise when I read my Ticketmaster e-mail this morning and in the events to come found this link:
I kinda had to check the link a few times. And then I realized just how old and “last to know things” I’ve gotten. After checking the MTV News archives I found out that back in May, Ali Shaheed announced that they would be doing a few reunion dates. I always heard rumors that a reunion was forthcoming, but this was the closest thing I’ve heard to tangible evidence of a return. Ali Shaheed also mentioned there was no plan for a new album — another rumor I heard.
Hmm. Not quite sure how I feel about this. It’s amazing. If someone asked me about five years ago, maybe I’d feel differently. But right now I feel that maybe things are too far gone. Hip-hop isn’t really ours anymore. It belongs to the Ying Yang twins. It belongs to Nelly. It’s T.I.’s game. There are a few that keep me coming back, and half of them take residence on OkayPlayer. But right now my spirit struggles with how this will play out. Even among the Quest loyalists, I have to admit, their style never really lent itself well to live shows. I remember seeing two taped performances and it was painful watching them yell lyrics that normally came out so smoothly during Award Tour. (Why do hip-hop artists feel that they have to scream their lyrics on stage? Particularly if they’re not DMX or other cats who have that normally as a style. It always felt to me as if a singer came on stage and screamed their songs instead of singing them. But, I digress.
If Quest is listening, my advice would be to release the album first. Go into the studio and try to revive the magic. No Consequence. No guest appearances. Just the three of you (four if you want to let Jarobi reclaim his rightful spot). But it’s going to take more than a few shows to get me hyped. Bring it back to the realness that had us jumping on tracks like Buggin Out, Excursions, Butter, Electric Relaxation, Verses from the Abstract, Footprints, Bonita Applebaum and Scenario. The true Quest fans (not the ones who say “I like the Tribe”. The real heads know that they’re “A Tribe”. I remember the original promo… “There are many tribes….but we are A Tribe Called Quest…”) Bring it back to us. And if you get in the studio and can’t make it happen, that’s ok. You left us with gems we’ll cherish for years to come. (I almost busted my speaker the other day bumping Award Tour.) But whatever you do, don’t come back with stuff like The Love Movement. It will tarnish the legacy that you’ve already left behind.
Image courtesy of MTV.com