In celebration of A Tribe Called Quest’s VH1 Rock Doc Beats, Rhymes & Life hitting VH1 air tomorrow night at 10p ET, we’re unearthing VH1 Album-Versaries: our tribute to the group’s Low End Theory album turning 20 in 2011. In the pages below, revisit commentary from Sway and Nelson George and immerse yourself in Tribe’s first joint-interview in 14 years – one that was conducted just as the Michael Rapaport doc was hitting theaters.
A Tribe Called Quest dropped their second full-length album, The Low End Theory, in late September of 1991. Widely recognized as a ground-breaking work today because of the manner in which it experimentally weaved layers of sampled jazz elements into its sound-bed, the album earned a spot in Time’s All-Time 100 Albums List, was named the #154 album of all-time by Rolling Stone and was celebrated at 2007’s VH1 Hip Hop Honors. The group recalls that early chapter of their career vividly, and last week, for A Tribe Called Quest’s first joint-interview since 1998, all four members of the group spoke exclusively to VH1 to mark the 20th anniversary of The Low End Theory’s release.
Aside from our celebration of this Album-Versary, ATCQ has been in the news quite a bit recently. Michael Rapaport’s award-winning documentary film, Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, played the festival circuit earlier this year, is due on DVD next month, and managed to kick up quite a media dirt-cloud in the process. In addition to providing an inner glimpse of the film’s starring group-members’ intertwined history, Beats, Rhymes & Life used issues surrounding a 2008 miscommunication-turned-scuffle between MCs Phife and Q-Tip as its second focus. Tribe’s fractured support of the film triggered cascading rumors of residual intra-group turmoil, but once content and contract disagreements and an intercepted-email incident were sorted out, the doc was finally released with ATCQ’s blessing.
For Questers, music fans and students of hip hop culture, Beats, Rhymes and Life is a must-see, but the effect it had on the lives of everyone involved in the project and the press frenzy that lingers might still be a bit misleading to the outside world. In order to help contextualize this landmark album’s impact, we spoke with MTV’s in-house hip hop expert Sway, cultural critic extraordinaire Nelson George, and international journalist Boss Lady about the resonance that this LP had then, and also now, 20 years later. And while A Tribe Called Quest appears to still be somewhat re-acquainting themselves with each other after dissolving in 1998 and wrestling with the last few years’ shell-shocking chain of events, it was clear from the time we spent with them that Kamaal “Q-Tip” Ibn John Fareed, Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor, Ali Shaheed Muhammed and, yes, even Jarobi White are still very much an unbreakable Tribe of brothers.