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A Groundbreaking Tribe Packs It Up

October 18, 1998|Soren Baker | Soren Baker writes about hip-hop for Calendar

A Tribe Called Quest's fifth album, "The Love Movement," may have just hit the record stores, but there's no celebration these days among fans of the premier hip-hop crew.

Because of personal and business differences, the group is calling it quits after a decade in which the Tribe proved to be one of the most innovative and influential outfits ever in rap.

"When we started, it was exciting--making music was fun," says deejay co-producer Ali Shaheed Muhammed, who along with rappers Q-Tip and Phife compose A Tribe Called Quest. "We almost came to the period of it not being fun for us. It's not cool because we still have so much to offer and we want to be able to express that without any barriers."

Breaking barriers was always at the heart of the Tribe's musical game plan.

A member of the hip-hop movement known as the Native Tongues (which included the Jungle Brothers and De La Soul), A Tribe Called Quest helped usher in a more musically relaxed, jazzy sound to rap music on their groundbreaking debut album, 1990's "Peoples Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm."

During an era when popular gangster rap groups such as N.W.A. and militant crews such as Public Enemy dominated sales charts and were beginning to spread hip-hop across cultural lines, A Tribe Called Quest provided a less sensational outlet for hip-hop listeners.

Their messages of peace and respect were balanced by lighthearted braggadocio, and even though Tribe at times offered stinging social commentary, they did so without the brash language and punishing production of other rap groups.

Modern groups such as Los Angeles' Black Eyed Peas and Jurassic 5 cater to the same crowd that the Native Tongues once served.

Tribe members point to many factors when asked to elaborate on the reasons for the split. They cite such issues as frustration with their record label, Jive, and with the internal dynamics of the group, along with the rap audience's increasing taste for familiar samples and rawer lyrics as reasons for the group's breakup.

"For us, [the breakup] means new beginnings, new adventures," Q-Tip says. "There wasn't no beef. Everybody sat down and we said, 'It would be better if we did this.' "

Q-Tip, born John Davis, is writing a movie script about a New York youth. Muhammed, who also produced soul singer D'Angelo's hit single "Brown Sugar," will continue to work with the Ummah production family, which produced the last two Tribe records.

Meanwhile, Phife is hoping to write sports columns and plans to launch a record label with professional football star Marshall Faulk. Phife's solo record will be the company's first release.

Unlike the breakups of rap groups EPMD and Brand Nubian (both reunited), this one will stick, the trio insists.

"It was a mutual decision," says Phife, whose real name is Malik Taylor. "I'm going to support Ali and Tip in what they do and vice versa. We all have to eat and we all have to go about it in different ways right now."*

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