ATCQ’s Debut Turns 25: A Look Back at “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm”

This album, both musically and vocally, is just as vibrant as its cover suggests.  Therefore, it’s no surprise that People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm is such a celebrated collection of songs.  In 1990, at a time when the popularity of hardcore Hip-Hop was on the rise, A Tribe Called Quest’s debut album served as a stark contrast to it by providing a more uplifting perspective on some of the same social issues.  Tribe’s colloquial rhyme style made them less confrontational.  And as a result, they were able to fight the good fight without as much resistance as some of their1363314063_220px-ATCQPeople'sInstinctTravels gangsta rap contemporaries.

Lyrically, the group is often about having fun, and the verses hold up well because they’re so relatable to the common man.  Forget bedding a stripper after making it rain in the club.  Instead, how about leaving a wallet in a restaurant because of the distraction a pretty waitress causes (“I Left My Wallet in El Segundo”)?  Or rather than threaten the establishment, give a shout out to those already in power with an sense of optimism (Phife Dawg’s rhyme in “Can I Kick It?”: Mr. Dinkins, would you please be my mayor? / You’ll be doing us a really big favor).  And those are just a few examples.  For as playful as Tribe is in their approach, the seriousness of what’s being discussed  at times can’t be ignored either.  The fact the album is able to operate on multiple levels is one of its most endearing qualities.

The production on here is ridiculously good.  Tribe took the conventional wisdom of Hip-Hop beat-making and threw it out the window – mad props to Ali Shaheed Muhammad. By utilizing jazz and rock samples instead of just soul and funk, the group tapped into a new creative approach that took Hip-Hop into uncharted waters.  And if one things confirms the power of the music more than anything else, it’s the fact that the rappers are relatively soft-spoken.  The music exudes confidence, so that the delivery of the rhymes don’t have to.  Therefore, instead of worrying about posturing, Q-Tip (who handles the majority of the raps) can truly be an abstract poet.  From flipping the “Old King Cole” nursery rhyme to spread awareness about STDs on “Pubic Enemy” to literally describing beats on “Push It Along” (the boom, the bip, the boom bip), the audience is never underestimated and thus ultimately rewarded for it.

To commemorate the album’s 25th anniversary, in addition to the 14 tracks being remastered  from the original tapes by Grammy-winning engineer Bob Power, the reissue also includes three new remixes from contemporary artists.  J. Cole delivers the goods with his version of “Can I Kick It?” The drums don’t disappoint!  Pharrell’s “Bonita Applebum” is dope, but slightly overproduced.  The moans at the end are especially noteworthy, however it still doesn’t surpass the original where the beat drops out from time-to-time to emphasize Tip’s rhymes.  “I like to kiss ya where some brothers won’t / I like to tell ya things some brothers don’t.”  Then last but not least is Cee Lo Green’s take on “Footprints.”  He adds to the bassline of this classic track by contributing a touch of soul as well as a solid verse of his own.

At the beginning of the album, Q-Tip himself even says that his title isn’t vital.  And he was right.  It was about forging a path of righteousness that all could follow. A quarter of a century and an album re-release later, it’s safe to say that A Tribe Called Quest succeeded.

This album means a lot.  It was the beginning of our careers; the beginning of our imprint; the beginning of seeing life the way we saw it, and being able to put it down in words and music.

 Ali Shaheed Muhammad

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