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Tribe reunion thrills fans with greatest hits

The seminal hip-hop group is back together for a tour. A seamless set of favorites shows they've still got it.

September 12, 2006|Soren Baker | Special to The Times

When word broke in 1998 that revered rap group A Tribe Called Quest was disbanding, the news hit the rap community hard. An integral part of the Native Tongues rap family, which also included the Jungle Brothers and De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest in the early 1990s brought a playful, inspiring, politically minded brand of rap that was as soulful as it was entertaining. During gangster rap's peak, Tribe and the other Native Tongue members provided an empowering, credible alternative to the harsher sounds coming from the likes of N.W.A and Ice Cube.

So when Tribe members Q-Tip, Phife and Ali Shaheed Muhammad met at the front of the stage Sunday at the Wiltern LG together for the first time in Los Angeles since disbanding eight years ago, the packed crowd went wild. For these fans, it was akin to Kobe and Shaq playing together again for the Lakers.

Before the crowd's adulation had time to diminish, DJ Muhammad cued up Tribe's "Buggin' Out," a standout cut from 1991's "The Low End Theory" album, widely regarded as one of the best rap albums ever. The tune's monstrous bass and the energetic tag-team interplay between rappers Q-Tip and Phife officially kicked off a seamless hourlong set that solidified Tribe's legacy as one of rap's finest groups.

The three members played effortlessly off one another, displaying the chemistry that made Tribe a seminal ensemble. Q-Tip, who after leaving the group had a successful solo career, was wearing a black tuxedo vest and bow tie. "Someone told me it was a Sunday night," he told the crowd midway through the show, "so I thought I'd dress for the occasion."

Phife, a sports fanatic, paid homage to baseball by wearing a Dodgers cap. During one of the few breaks in the set, he discussed the team's success this year, and addressed the prospect of an L.A. football franchise.

Muhammad, a gifted producer, DJ, talent scout and former member of R&B outfit Lucy Pearl, stuck to the turntables and kept the concert moving at a swift pace that featured Tribe performing only its best-known songs. That's not to say the set was lacking in the element of surprise. The most notable: After performing "Oh My God" and "Jazz (We've Got)," Tribe brought out Jarobi, a fourth member who mysteriously left the group before "Low End" came out in 1991.

After Q-Tip implored the crowd to spread and practice peace, Tribe disappeared momentarily, then returned for a 15-minute encore. When it delivered hits "Scenario," "Check the Rime" and "Award Tour," it was as if the group and its supporters found a welcome second wind. Now, if only for a reunion album.

Rhymesfest, who co-wrote Kanye West's "Jesus Walks," opened the concert, billed as the "2K Sports Bounce Tour." Seven minutes into his steady 35-minute set, the Chicago rapper launched into his "Brand New" single, which features West. Noticing fans' excitement building about the potential emergence of his famous collaborator, he killed the buzz. "Kanye's not going to run from behind there [backstage]," he said, beaming, "so enjoy yourself."

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