January 1, 2008

A Tribe Called Quest - People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (April 17, 1990)

Happy New Year! Welcome to the 2008 edition of Hip Hop Isn't Dead. I realize that it looks an awful lot like the old version of the blog, but that's simply because I haven't changed anything yet. Maybe I'll update it soon, and maybe I won't; I like to keep my two readers on their collective toes.

Anyway, on to the post that I sort of promised in the year-end blog. I'm sure everyone was wondering how I could review Q-Tip's and Phife Dawg's solo albums without (a) reviewing Ali Shaheed Muhammad's as well, and (b) actually talking about A Tribe Called Quest, my second-favorite hip hop group of all time. The answer's pretty simple, actually: I didn't wanna. Somehow, that second Timbaland album seemed more important for me to review than Tribe's first opus, People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, possibly because I'm insane, but more so due to the fact that Shock Value sold tons of copies and I didn't want the same mistake happening with Tim's Bio.

People's Instinctive Travels... was released in 1990, making it automatically better than every single rap record released in the new millennium. It was distributed by Jive Records, who at the time was actually a well-respected hip hop label and had not yet decided to shit on the genre outright by handling the back catalogs of Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. A Tribe Called Quest, which consisted of rappers Q-Tip and Phife Dawg, DJ/producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and their key grip Jarobi, built their songs around unorthodox samples (Lou Reed, anyone?), humorous and socially relevant lyrical content, and the rhyme delivery of Tip (formerly known as MC Love Child. No, seriously), who handles the album almost as if it were a solo effort. (Phife Dawg, who at the time joined the group reluctantly as he was still hoping for a career in the sports field, only appears on three songs out of fourteen.) Q-Tip had previously made his debut on De La Soul's remix of "Buddy", which became a huge hit for that group, so I suppose it makes sense that he would appear more often.

It eventually sold over five hundred thousand copies, but at the time of its release, the reception was lukewarm at best. At the time, hip hop heads were looking more toward the gangsta-rap genre that had just taken the rap world by force, and weren't really looking for positive rap, affiliation with the Native Tongues crew (alongside, among others, De La Soul and Jungle Brothers) be damned. The critics weren't even on Tribe's side. Sure, The Source gave Tribe their coveted five mics, but nobody gives a fuck about The Source anymore. Rolling Stone (always known for their love of hip hop, of course) called People's Instinctive Travels... the "least danceable rap record ever", which is the dumbest fucking thing I have ever heard, because if people can dance to Souljah Boy, there's at least one song on here that they could groove to.

An album like People's Instinctive Travels... couldn't be released today unless the budget provided by the label was in the field of one trillion dollars. It was released in the time when nobody cleared their samples, and this album features seemingly eight hundred gabillion samples, none of which are credited in the liner notes. As such, People's Instinctive Travels... comes off as a pastiche of sounds that were compiled in just the right way to provide decipherable melodies for Q-Tip to rhyme to, for Phife to stand by the sidelines to, and for group seat filler Jarobi to half-assedly narrate to. (Jarobi left the group shortly after the release of their first album to attend cooking school, leaving Tribe as the three-man collective that we all know and love today.)

People's Instinctive Travels... was actually the fourth album I picked up from the Tribe, which provided for a bizarre listening experience, as I was actually progressing backward through their catalog, so their talents were becoming less and less obvious. That probably accounts for why this is the Tribe album I listen to the least, the classic singles notwithstanding.

Okay, let's see how this goes.

After a bizarre "birth", we are handed a jazzy introductory song that nicely introduces Q-Tip and Phife. Jarobi appears on the interlude between this song and the next, in what is honestly one of the more annoying setups I've heard on an album (it comes off as if the album is being performed live in its entirety, with spoken interludes, which is ridiculous, given the complex samples used for some of these songs).

Both Havoc (of Mobb Deep) and Keith Murray both obviously love this song, as well they should, since it still sounds great today.

Another complaint from the fine jackasses at Rolling Stone was that the rappers sounded boring on this album. I can see where they were going with that comment after hearing this song, although the beat itself is pretty good.

Fantastic track. Tip sounds his most assured over a beat that most other rappers would kill to rhyme to (except for the lame-ass horn samples where the hook would normally appear).

This song showcases Q-Tip's ability to tell a goofy story, but what it actually proves is that Tip can command an audience, which would help with some of the darker themes of their second effort, The Low End Theory.

The beat kind of overtakes the lyrics on this one, but the beat itself is pretty decent, so it's not a bad thing. May have been better as an instrumental showcase for Ali Shaheed Muhammad, though.

Do you even have to ask? You do? Okay then, "Bonita Applebum" was one of the singles that enabled Tribe's career to extend beyond the one album. That would be a good thing, as this lyrical come-on still sounds great in 2008. (Hey, that rhymes!) For all seventy zillion folks that picked up Fugees's The Score because of their cover of "Killing Them Softly", you should be aware that this is the song the beat was stolen from. And fans of fellow Queens residents Mobb Deep's "G.O.D. Part III" (from Hell On Earth) will recognize the drum break.

True story: There was an unfortunate incident that took place many years ago, when I was but a wee child. While walking in the park on a late summer afternoon, Lou Reed himself stole my brother's ice cream cone and sprinted away. I quickly gave chase and brutally attacked him with the lid from a nearby trash can and the hard plastic from my laminated state-issued ID card. After I pried the cone from Lou reed's cold, dead fingers, we looked at each other and had a good laugh. That bastard sure does love his ice cream! Afterward, we tried to go watch a movie; however, it was clear that our friendship was to be short-lived when he picked Top Gun, even though he knew my feelings regarding Don SImpson/Jerry Bruckheimer films. We each went our separate ways, and if you were to confront him today, he would probably deny that he ever knew anybody named Max, right before he tried to steal your Klondike bar. Man, those were good times. I'm sorry, the song? Yeah, the song is still good today.

The momentum built by the first eight tracks kinda dies down at this point.


I think it's a bit odd that the track dedicated to the DJ is the shortest one on the entire album. Maybe it's just me. Maybe it's because it's not that great. Take your pick.

12. HAM 'N' EGGS
Wouldn't be completely out of place on Sesame Street.

Pretty damn boring, if you ask me. Which you clearly have, since you're reading this sentence.

This was actually the first single that Tribe had ever released, waaaay back in 1989, and it wasn't very well received; hell, Jive didn't even commission a video to introduce the group to the MTV audience. "Bonita Applebum" was released as the first "real" single three whole months after the album dropped; now that's efficient! I don't understand why "Description Of A Fool" was sequenced to appear at the end of the album, as the energy presented here by both beats and rhymes would have sounded better after "Can I Kick It?" (the second "real" single).

FINAL THOUGHTS: A Tribe Called Quest would not be a force in hip hop had they seen their first release in the new millennium, rather than 1990. They don't talk about anything negative (i.e., killing some other motherfucker, fucking random strippers, mainlining Oxycontin) unless it's in the context of a story. Peoples Instinctive Travels... is the type of CD that, if released today, would sell negative forty-seven copies and cause Tribe to be dropped by their major label backer, they would have no video or radio airplay, and they would have a small but loyal following on Myspace. Luckily this wasn't the case, and A Tribe Called Quest were able to flourish. Thanks, Jive Records! Anyway, this album is by no means Tribe's best effort: I'm thankful that they were given another chance with The Low End Theory, which I'll get to hopefully sometime this year.

BUY OR BURN? I would recommend a purchase, as you could probably find this disc for three bucks if you looked hard enough. It'll give you something interesting to listen to while you wait for the next write-up, or while cultivating that nasty coke habit. (The CD case is perfect for that purpose!)

BEST TRACKS: "Footprints"; "Can I Kick It?"; "Bonita Applebum"


Q-Tip - Amplified
Phife Dawg - Ventilation: Da LP


  1. Contrary to everyone I've spoken to, PITATPOR is my favorite Tribe album. I love the hippie vibe throughout, that kinda died out on their later ventures.

    YOUTHFUL EXPRESSION is one of my favorite joints of all time. I can't believe you don't like it. LUCK OF LUCIEN also deserves to be in your BEST TRACKS list.

    All in all, this statement is soooooo true: "People's Instinctive Travels... was released in 1990, making it automatically better than every single rap record released in the new millennium."


    Sincerely yours,

    Reader #3

  2. Gotta agree that this is not as good as their next two albums but still a must-buy for any rap fan. You just gotta love Bonita Applebum

  3. I need to actually to listen to this, I love LET/MM so much I feel like I'm missing out by having not heard anything from this besides the singles.

  4. My big brother Dave used to rent cars for the weekend (back when you only had to be 21) and he would play this tape loud as fuck in it. God I loved this album...from beginning to end.


  5. Jarobi might be annoying but he deserves a statue in the Weed Carrier Hall Of Fame for his pioneering work on this album before a rotator cuff injury forced him into early retirement. Funny about old Lou Reed too - I wouldn't be surprised to see him wander into that Dateline NBC house and hear a Chris Hansen voice over saying "And you won't believe what THIS guy had in his trunk."
    Anyway, great debut album - it does kind of fall apart halfway thru side two but the vibe of the Tribe is still unique and cool.

  6. luck of lucien is the joint mang... truth be told i was kina dissapointed when i finally did cop this cd after all them years...least played quest album indeed....big up jarobi mih dupes

  7. I actually didn't like Tribe at first when they were progressing through their singles for this album. "Can I Kick It" did catch my attention, but I thought why buy the disc for one song? It wasn't until I fell in love with "Low End Theory" when it dropped (I bought it after hearing "Check The Rhime" just cuz I love it so much) that I went back and bought "People's...". It's still my least favorite of the ATCQ catalog, but it's still a classic and a must have.

    True story, I waited on Phife and Jarobi in a Chile's back in '98, right before they announced their break-up. I recognized Phife, but I didn't know it was Jarobi until Phife told me...haha

  8. "Q-Tip had previously made his debut on De La Soul's remix of 'Buddy'" Actually it was on The Jungle Brothers' track I think called "the demo" or something like that. Also on their "Black Is Black." Just had to get back at you for the GZA comment. Happy New Year btw.

  9. Good point about the Jungle Brothers song, although I don't remember the Gza comment you speak of. Happy New Year to you as well. Does this mean you're going to start up the second half of the alphabet?

  10. Gostei muito desse post e seu blog é muito interessante, vou passar por aqui sempre =) Depois dá uma passada lá no meu site, que é sobre o CresceNet, espero que goste. O endereço dele é http://www.provedorcrescenet.com . Um abraço.

  11. crescenet... how exactly is that link related to the previous comments...i am...nonplused

  12. Marlo, didn't you read what he said!?!?

  13. I...uhm... could'nt...

  14. Can't believe I was not the first to comment on this post. I mean a tribe enthusiast like myself should have came correct on this post. This is a good review of the tribe album. I agree with you on most of the songs expect for Go Ahead In The Rain (i love the song for Tip's flow" and I think Pubic Enemy' beats and Tip flows equal each other there. I hope to do a post on a Tribe Soon.

  15. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessMarch 01, 2008

    This album was pretty good and showed flashes of the brilliance yet to come but The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders rank with Illmatic/It Was Written and The Infamous/Hell On Earth as the best back to back releases in the history of rap music. Therefore, this is relegated to bi-annual rotation in the felonious household.

    Semi related question: Have you heard 44 Fours? There are acapella versions floating around the internet but you should check out the one on J-Love's Hova mixtape where he rhymes over the Can I Kick It? beat. The mixtape also includes some material that sounds like it was recorded just before Reasonable Doubt as well as some quality Sauce Money shit. Which brings me to my theory that Making Easy Money Pimping Hoes In Style Bleek once prevented Sauce from raping the jigga man's puppy. How else to explain Jay's undying loyalty to Bleek while the much more talented Sauce Money has been mercilessly disregarded?

    I'd also like to take this opportunity to endorse J-Love as the best mixtape dj for anyone raised on mid 90's hip hop. The vocal drops get out of hand sometimes but he's made great mixes of Rakim, AZ, Slick Rick, G. Rap, Big L, and Big Pun as well as quality regular mixtapes. His Nas' Finest series also contains many treasures as Nas, or whoever was in charge of selecting which tracks to include on his retail releases, made some terrible mistakes.

    Finally, Ace's comment in the Cbox asking where he can find Outkast's Runonsentence album is the funniest thing I've read in a while. Even unintentionally sometimes, this blog continues to crank out the hilarity.

  16. Phil Watts, Jr.June 11, 2008

    "Sure, The Source gave Tribe their coveted five mics, but nobody gives a fuck about The Source anymore."

    Back then, EVERYBODY gave a fuck about The Source. The Source during that period was the be-all-end-all of Hip-hop magazines, so Tribe getting the MAGIC 5 was indeed a big deal. Back then, no one knew who Benzino was, and the mag was one of the best on the shelves (aside from RAPPAGES, of course) before Benzino got his hands on it and made all the good writers and editors leave.

    By the way, FUCK ROLLING STONE.

  17. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessJune 13, 2008

    I'm 99% certain that Tribe got 5 mics for The Low End Theory and not for this album, Max. I think I'm correct in thinking that you were implying that. If so, you're probably a country western expert who thinks Guru's from Boston.

  18. Don't act like I don't remember you, man! That ice cream was good as hell!

  19. Obviously isn't Tribe's best album, but you can see flashes of their future greatness all over this thing, specifically in the first 8 tracks. And Max i dont care what you say, Ham & Eggs is an awesome song

  20. This is a 5 MIC album and one of the first ones,it is considered one of the greatest albums of all time but overshadowed by the next two.Pharell found this to be a life changing album and made many all time lists.To me it's tied with midnight marauders and LET first.Definately one of the greatest pieces of work in music history.

  21. Some of the tracks on this album is dated as FUCK. Still a good album though. I say good and not great when comparing this to their next 2 albums. Are you referring to any particular songs by Havoc and Keith Murray which they have made and have sampled 'Luck of Lucien' from when you mentioned those two rappers love that song?

  22. RIP Lou Reed. P.S. Lou Reed said he loved Yeezus.. RIP