Tracing A Tribe Called Quest’s Path Back From Their 18-Year Hiatus To A New Album And ‘SNL’

Managing Hip-Hop Editor
11.11.16 4 Comments

Jive Records

A Tribe Called Quest will always be propped up as one of rap’s greatest groups of all time with no exaggeration. Their catalog includes albums like Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders, both of which are widely considered to be classics, along with a number of memorable tracks fans know and love. As fresh-faced teens when they entered the business, their style an aesthetic — from the jazz samples and socially conscious rhymes to their Afrocentric style of dress that influenced the ’90s — helped hip-hop grow into a vibrant force in American culture.

So pervasive was their influence, Nas went so far as to call them hip-hop’s version of The Beatles. But, just like that great band and many more before them, the members eventually decided to go their separate ways. Creative differences and strife between the members, particularly Phife and Q-Tip, were a huge factor in the group’s break up following the release of The Love Movement in 1998. For the next 18 years, they each went on their own travels on the paths of rhythm and beyond.

Ali Shaheed Muhammad

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The quietest one of the group actually ended up in a spot that requires him to do quite a lot of talking. Since 2012, Muhammad is the co-host of NPR’s rap Microphone Check with Fran Kelley where they’ve cultivated one of the best music podcasts around with their series of in-depth interviews with artists.

Before that, the producer teamed up former En Vogue singer Dawn Robinson and Tony! Toni! Tone! frontman Raphael Saadiq to form R&B outfit Lucy Pearl and the group released their self-titled album back in 2000. The group was always in a state flux though. D’Angelo was supposed to be down but ultimately backed out. The released two singles — “Dance Tonight” and “Don’t Mess With My Man” — to moderate success before Robinson backed out and was replaced by unheralded Southern songbird Joi. But, it also helped create a small reunion between Ali Shaheed and Q-Tip when they linked together for the song “You,” featuring Snoop Dogg, for the Save the Last Dance soundtrack of all places.

Still, Muhammad’s built a very solid track record for production and songwriting in the days since Tribe. He co-wrote D’Angelo’s breakthrough single “Brown Sugar,” worked with John Legend on 2013’s Love in the Future (“Wanna Be Loved”), and even popped up on Kendrick Lamar’s untitled project for the song “06.30.2014” with Cee Lo Green. Down the line, he also provided additional vocals on the posthumous Phife track “Nutshell.”

Most recently, he worked with Adrian Younge to score the hip-hop infused soundtrack for the Netflix hit Luke Cage and ended up being instrumental to the show’s success. It’s something Muhammad takes great pride in. “Knowing how important Luke Cage is to the African-American community and knowing how severe tensions are racially for the young black male at this time, as a teen I didn’t ever think we would get to this point,” Ali said in a September interview. “A Tribe Called Quest really tried to make music to inspire all races.”

He continued, “In this day and age where we have an African-American president and to see that things have progressed, I thought Luke Cage coming out at this point in time was again serendipitous. Anybody could have gotten that call. There are so many dope musicians out there.”

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