A Tribe Called Quest Were Musical Pioneers

phifedawgRock is the biggest cultural circus on the planet, spanning continents and decades, and incorporating elements of just about every musical style under the sun – so here at Rocknuts we try to open up the big tent as wide as we can.

Last week we noted the passing of Frank Sinatra Jr., and today I wanted to say a few words about Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor of A Tribe Called Quest, who passed away last week at age 45.

A Tribe Called Quest revolutionized hip hop music for the better. At a time when the genre was characterized by anger and in-your-face bombast, these guys came around bringing a clever, light touch and a self-effacing charm that opened the door for a lot of new musical possibilities.

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It was the hip hop equivalent of country rock emerging on the heels of psychedelia. A Tribe Called Quest were musical pioneers, and there’s not a whole lot of artists from any genre who can make that claim.

I’m not a big hip hop fan by any means, but I’ve always got an ear open for either an interesting turn of phrase, or for a nice groove laid down by real instruments, and A Tribe Called Quest stood out on both counts when they hit the scene in the mid-1990s.

Instead of all that shouting and drum pounding, this band rapped in normal speaking voices, and the backing instrumentation, especially the bass playing, was often subtle, skillful and very groovy. Some have even called it jazz influenced, although it doesn’t come close to the complexity and the virtuosity of jazz musicianship.

I’m certainly not a hip hop expert, and I can’t listen to too much of it in one sitting, but as a playlist programmer, you could put a track from A Tribe Called Quest in between tracks from, say, Steely Dan and Beach House, and it would sound fantastic. You should try it in the comfort of your own home, or big tent.

Rest in peace, Phife Dawg. 45 is way too young to go.


Photo credit: By Super User (bluchipmonstermixx.com) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

One comment to “A Tribe Called Quest Were Musical Pioneers”
  1. As a massive hip-hop fan who is never allowed to write about it on this site, I can say that Tribe was the real deal. They posed questions, drew conclusions, and added a real touch of class to the rap scene at the time.
    Thanks for taking the time to give Phife some ink, Rich.

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