The first time I heard A Tribe Called Quest was a trip. It was on a trip, actually. I was with my family in California in 1990, and I stood in an endless line to get into The Arsenio Hall Show. My ears were getting a glimpse of the future, courtesy of the music on the PA system: A Tribe Called Quest’s People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm was like nothing I had ever heard. It was stylish, funny, jazzy, soulful, smart and everything else. Tribe was socially conscious without being too self-conscious about it. Q-Tip was telling stories and drawing characters with a light touch that went deep, and the samples dug into the most amazing corners of ’70s music. Was that a Vaughan Mason & Crew sample on “Pubic Enemy”? Were those jazz artists like Roy Ayers and Lonnie Smith? Tribe colored outside the lines of traditional funk and soul samples. They made your parents’ record collection relevant again. I almost drove out to El Segundo to leave my wallet there as a tribute.
In 1990, I was a budding hip-hop artist, but hearing that made everything bloom. I started to see the magic of the entire Native Tongues collective (Tribe, De La Soul, Jungle Brothers); on the brink of becoming The Roots, we started our own version, called Foreign Objects. I was suddenly proud to say I had a favorite rap group. I remember getting my hair braided as I watched the “El Segundo” video.
And then there’s the matter of my own name. On our first album [1993’s Organix], I was credited as “B.R.O. the R.? (Beat Recycler of the Rhythm).” For every reason, that couldn’t stand. The Questlove name grew from the seed of A Tribe Called Quest, though I watered it with my own questions about self-knowledge and searching. They helped name me, and now I name them for what they were, are and always will be: one of the brightest constellations in hip-hop’s sky.