Since the moment I heard of the passing of A Tribe Called Quest’s Phife Dawg earlier this week, I, like so many others, have spent a lot of time revisiting Tribe’s catalogue. For me, hearing their two undisputed classics, 1991’s The Low End Theory and 1993’s Midnight Marauders were complete revelations. Never before had I hung on every single word an MC put forth as I did with Phife and his partner-in-rhyme Q-Tip — hearing a new knockout phrase with every subsequent listen, I became infatuated with their lyrical skill and playfulness.
Already a jazz enthusiast, I also became interested in the many, many recordings that ultimately found themselves sampled on ATCQ tracks via their great DJ and producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad. There were the relatively obvious selections: guitarist Jack Wilkins 1973 version of Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay,” Average White Band’s 1976 funk workout “Love Your Life,” and, of course, Lou Reed’s #16 hit “Walk on the Wild Side” from 1972’s Transformer. But then there were also more obscure selections saved from obscurity: Michal Urbaniak’s 1974 recording “Ekim,” which could easily be mistaken for Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis, The Howard Roberts Quartet’s 1963 smooth jam “That Dirty Old Bossa Nova,” that featured some of Capitol Records’ best session players (do yourself a favor and look up drummer Earl Palmer’s discography), and Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers’ “A Chant for Bu” (from 1973’s Buhaina), that shows the band digging deep into decidedly avant-garde territory.
Like the best interplay between Phife and Q-Tip, Tribe’s music, ultimately, is a great conversation, linking the past, present and future of music with astonishing precision. I will be forever indebted to Phife and co.’s addition to my own musical conversation, and remain lucky that, even in death, we have so much great music to hang on to. Here are two playlists featuring some of my favorite tracks sampled by Tribe (Part 1), as well as (most of) the songs in which those samples were featured (Part 2)–enjoy!
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