There are few hip-hop groups as influential as A Tribe Called Quest. Dominating the progressive rap scene of the late ’80s through the ’90s, their music—an inventive medley of hip-hop and jazz with textures of bossa nova and hints of rock—touched on critical issues, both personal and social, in a way that was powerful, yet still carefree and fun.
They were visionaries, paving the way for an alternative hip-hop sound we can still hear today.
Behind the Name
When A Tribe Called Quest formed, the group consisted of longtime neighborhood friends and high school peers, rapper-producer Q-Tip, co-producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad, as well as rappers Phife Dawg and Jarobi White.
At their inception, the group originally called themselves Crush Connection, then later adopted the name Quest. “A Tribe Called” was tacked onto their moniker in 1988 at the urging of fellow high school mates and rappers, Jungle Brothers, reportedly while playing a card game.
Shortly after, with the final iteration of their group name secured, A Tribe Called Quest alongside Jungle Brothers and Long Island rap trio De La Soul formed the hip-hop collective, the Native Tongues. Together, the collective—later joined by artists Queen Latifah, Monie Love, Black Sheep, and Chi-Ali—would pioneer a more conscious style of hip-hop, characterized by open-minded and spiritual lyricism, eclectic sounds and diverse samplings, all with Afrocentrism at the heart of their music.
The late ’90s witnessed the group’s breakup as they announced their final album would be their 1998 release, The Love Movement. They went their separate ways and pursued their own solo careers, but reunited in 2006 to tour as a group on and off for several years.
When Phife Dawg passed away in 2016, the group had a new album in the works. The remaining members finished the project and released it later that year. We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service would debut at No. 1, and A Tribe Called Quest would perform their final concert on September 9, 2017.
While the group has disbanded, A Tribe Called Quest’s influence lives on in the works of so many of today’s biggest artists. Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Pusha T, Questlove, and OutKast’s Andre 3000 have all cited the group as one of their biggest influences.
The group’s sound and style bridged so many gaps, creating something truly unique, something that can still be found across the alt-hip-hop genre that plays today.
Photo by Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images