- 22 Mar 21
Five years ago today, Phife Dawg (aka Malik Izaak Taylor) of A Tribe Called Quest died, aged 45. To mark his anniversary, we're revisiting Paul Nolan's reflections on the enduring legacy of the pioneering alternative hip-hop group – originally published in 2017, ahead of their performance at Electric Picnic.
Since forming in New York in the mid-’80s, A Tribe Called Quest have gone on to seal their place in the pantheon of all-time hip hop greats. The group’s distinctive mix of feel-good jams and social commentary has resulted in several classic albums, including The Low End Theory, Midnight Marauders and Beats, Rhymes And Life.
Comprised of the quartet of Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Jarobi White and Phife Dawg, Tribe debuted in 1990 with People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths Of Rhythm, although it was with the following year’s The Low End Theory that they really came to wide prominence. Having guested on De La Soul’s classic ‘A Rollerskating Jam Named "Saturdays"’ in the interim, the group were primed to ascend to the elite level of hip hop, and duly obliged with an LP that received rave critical notices.
They consolidated their success with Midnight Marauders in 1993, before going supernova three years later with Beat, Rhymes And Life, which went platinum in the US and topped the Billboard charts. Although their stock was at an all-time high, Tribe went on an extended hiatus following ’98’s The Love Movement, with record company wrangles rumoured to be part of their decision.
In the aftermath of a November 2015 appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon – the same night of the terrorist attacks in Paris – Tribe, describing themselves as “charged”, decided to put aside any internal differences to record a new album. Sadly, the record was incomplete at the time of Phife Dawg’s passing from diabetes the following March, but the remaining members decided to press ahead and finish it. With a title provided by Phife Dawg, We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service would again top the Billboard charts. The act would subsequently perform on Saturday Night Live in front of a mural of their late member, while Tribe’s enduring influence was acknowledged with both a Brit Award for Best International Group and an acclaimed performance at the Grammys.
These days, the group’s legacy is visible everywhere on the hip hop landscape. For example, Flying Lotus’s internationally celebrated LA club-night, Low End Theory, is named after one of their classic albums. We Got It From Here…, meanwhile, featured appearances from a Galacticos-like array of superstar talent, including Andre 3000, Elton John, Kendrick Lamar, Jack White and Kanye West. Indeed, Kanye had previously invited the band to play a couple of support dates during the New York stint of the Yeesuz Tour.
The group have been in stellar form during their current run, playing a series of rapturously received shows at the likes of Red Rocks, San Francisco’s Outside Lands and New York’s Panorama Festival. They’ve played a set covering all stages of their career, with the crowds lapping up classics like ‘Check The Rhime’, ‘Steve Biko (Stir It Up)’ and the immortal ‘Bonita Applebaum’. Providing their unique blend of infectious hip hop grooves, electrifying funk workouts and soulful jams, Tribe shows are always a memorable experience. Overall, the stage is perfectly set for another classic performance as Q-Tip and co. make their way to Stradbally.