Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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A Tribe Called Quest

  • People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm [Jive, 1990] B+
  • The Low End Theory [Jive, 1991] ***
  • Midnight Marauders [Jive, 1993] A-
  • Beats, Rhymes and Life [Jive, 1996] ***
  • The Love Movement [Jive, 1998] Choice Cuts
  • The Anthology [Jive, 1999] A
  • We Got It From Here . . . Thank You 4 Your Service [Epic, 2016] A+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm [Jive, 1990]
Not Afrocentric enough to hear this indubitably progressive pastiche as a groove album, I cut-by-cutted it, and I'm glad I did. Though most of the second "side" remains subtler than is by any means necessary, it has more good songs on it than any neutral observer will believe without trying: the Afrogallic "Luck of Lucien," the slumming "After Hours," the cholesterol-conscious "Ham 'n' Eggs," the lustful "Bonita Appleburn," the safe-sex "Pubic Enemy." Which latter, let me cavil, adheres to the rap convention by sticking to gonorrhea, thus rendering AIDS Other-by-omission once again. Onward. B+

The Low End Theory [Jive, 1991]
dope jazzbeats and goofball rhymes from the well-meaning middle class ("Check the Rhime," "Buggin' Out") ***

Midnight Marauders [Jive, 1993]
Like so many "beats," Low End Theory's Ron Carter bass was really a glorified sound effect--what excited its admirers wasn't its thrust, or even the thrill of the sound itself, so much as the classiness it signified. Kicking off with a disembodied computer voice promising "presentation precise, bass-heavy, and just right," this follow-up makes that bass rock the house, literally, and never contents itself with concept. Right, they "kick more game than a crackhead from Hempstead." But rather than "kick a rhyme over ill drumrolls," as I don't doubt they can, they construct horn hooks I love better than I understand. A-

Beats, Rhymes and Life [Jive, 1996]
fighting sensationalist obscurity with philosophic subtlety, which I wish could work ("Jam," "Crew," "The Hop") ***

The Love Movement [Jive, 1998]
"Rock Rock Y'All" Choice Cuts

The Anthology [Jive, 1999]
"They provided the soundtrack for your life," annotator Selwyn Seyfu Hinds reminds the collegiate hip hoppers for whom Quest was the great crew of the '90s, politely failing to mention that for just that reason they don't need this record except to reconceive a catalogue they know by heart. But then there's the rest of us, for whom they've always been background music two ways--as the atmospheric stuff so many hip hoppers make of jazz and as the soundtrack to someone else's life. For us, these nonstop highlights are a godsend. Quest's swinging conversation unifies a sequence subtler and more musical than strict chronology would allow--the way two horny debut cuts poke in toward the end, say. Having added jazz bass to funky drum programmers to quiet flow to hooks-to-go to matter-of-fact realism-not-"reality," they convince our viscera what our brains allowed--that Quest was a great band. So if they want Roy Ayers, they can have him too. A

We Got It From Here . . . Thank You 4 Your Service [Epic, 2016]
As it was envisioned, this through-conceived meld of rhythm and voice, harmony and hook, ideas and feelings, life and death would have dawned upon us 11/9 as a collegial reminder in the spirit of its title: OK ma'am, the wolf has skulked away from the door, now let the people shape their destiny. Track one moans "The heat the heat the heat the heat" to signify climate change not law enforcement before it states its cross-racial political purposes with a forthright "It's time to go left and not right." And fundamentally, that was the idea. Of course the hour that ensues isn't uniformly ideological--this is music, their first in decades and their last ever, and music's impulses and necessities are their heart. But not their brain. With everybody home and Busta Rhymes moved into the guest room, the drama is all in reuniting seeker Q-Tip, whose long apprenticeship as a fusion musician finally yields some beats, and family man Phife Dog, who left this mortal plane in March but rhymes all the way to the final track. The album represents both their bond and the conscious black humanism they felt sure the nation was ready for: struggle yoked with work ethic, "forward movement" with "instinctual soul," "answer for cancer" with "learning is free," and damn right race-blind law enforcement. Hillary is a "woman with the wisdom who is leading the way," "The Donald"--Phife rhyming here, no later than March--all "Bloodclot you doing/Bullshit you spewing/As if the country ain't already ruined." The election didn't turn out like they figured. We know. But the music remains, urging us to love each other as much as we can as we achieve a happiness it's our duty to reaccess if we're to battle as all we can be. Its statement of principle didn't get the victory it foresaw. But it remains a triumph. A+