Tidal Catalog #45: A Tribe Called Quest (Six Degrees)

Introduction: For those of you that have stumbled across this website and are interested in reading about my trek through the universe of the Tidal streaming service, let me tell you a bit about what I did. Back in 2016 I thought it would be kind of cool to listen to an artist’s catalog from start to finish and rank them from best to worst. After all, who doesn’t like a good list? I thought I might do a few of them and see what happened, hoping it would introduce me to records that were foreign to me in the arsenal of an artist I was familiar with. I also thought that it would be pretty cool to get out of the “one off” mode of listening to a new record, years after the previous one, in order to get a true sense of how the artist matured over time. Fast forward to June of 2019 and 250 catalogs later, I ended the trek. I posted these all on Facebook over the years as they were completed but I’m going to move them all over here, starting with #1, in order to expand them out a bit more. Facebook doesn’t exactly allow for too many details.

As with all my catalogs, to be considered in the ranking, an album has to meet certain criteria:

  • The artist must actually perform on 80% of the tracks (soundtrack and rap provision)
  • No compilations of previous released material will be included.
  • However, compilations of previously recorded material will be included if they are remixes, bonus tracks, outtakes… mostly music that hasn’t been part of a main release before.
  • The album must have been released officially and within the realm of the label that the artist would have been on at the time or official releases posthumously (normally applies to a slew of live records)
  • Any EPs must contain new new music and be relevant to the catalog, not be more like a single with a b-side or two.

Entrance Point: I was very familiar with the first three Tribe Called Quest records and the debut Q-Tip record but hadn’t gone beyond that point so most of the catalog was new for me.

Included: Since this is a six degrees catalog, I’m using the full catalog of all original members (which still isn’t much) but that includes; Q-Tip’s olo records, Phife Dawg’s solo records, Evitan (Jarobi White’s group with Dres from Black Sheep), Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s solo album, his record as Lucy Pearl (with Raphael Saadiq and Dawn Robinson), his two scores with Adrian Younge and his group with Adrian called The Midnight Hour

All albums ranked on a 10 scale:

  • A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory (10)

You could have taken any of the Tribe’s first three albums and put them at #1 and I wouldn’t argue but I chose The Low End Theory because it’s got the greatest rap song of all time on it, in “Scenario.” And here’s the fucking kicker too – “Scenario” is the 14th and final track on the album. This album is so damn good that the best rap song in history is buried as the final track on this disc. Insane, right? Overall though, this is one of the cleanest and smoothest hip-hop records ever made. The beats from Ali Shaheed Muhammad are so great that bells and whistles aren’t necessary and the prose contained within those songs are simply classic. Phife Dawg doesn’t get a lot of credit for being a great MC (but he was) because Q-Tip is one of the best ever. And on “Scenario”, he pairs up with another one of the top rappers in Busta Rhymes who at that point was part of the Leaders of the New School. Busta’s verse on “Scenario” is one of, if not the greatest guest rap in the history of the genre and thus, I had no choice but to make that the tie breaker for these wonderful records.

  • A Tribe Called Quest – People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythms (10)

As mentioned above, take any of the first three albums and put them on the top and I have no issue with you at all. This was the debut record released back in 1990 and it has to be one of the greatest debut records of all time in hip-hop and it influenced a whole generation of rappers from Common to the Fugees to Pharrell Williams. The verbal wordplay is exactly what you’d expect going back to listen to them now but there weren’t that many really intelligent lyricists out there in the mainstream back in this era, which made this a pioneering album. Even the lighter moment of “Ham & Eggs” and not eating them because of high cholesterol seems high class compared to much of what’s been a hit over the last few decades.

I even have a funny and quite unique story for this one as many years ago a buddy of mine got married and had the DJ play “I Left My Wallet In El Segundo” during the reception. First, only and likely last time I will ever hear that song at a wedding.

  • A Tribe Called Quest – Midnight Marauders (10)

Now if “Award Tour” “Electric Relaxation” or “Oh My God” happened to be your favorite ATCQ song, I can see you having this record at #1 as well. I might debate you on this one for a slight moment as while it’s a pretty perfect record, I still see it as the third best in their catalog. The only difference is that I think the singles here are the clear standouts and the first two albums were a little more balanced but that doesn’t make this any worse really, just the um…least best? And how many times have you heard Busta Rhymes’ “Oh My God” lyrics on the song of the same name, over the years? These guys had five records before they broke up and this was the final classic one. But how many groups can say they had three “classic” albums that defined a genre / era of music?

  • A Tribe Called Quest – Beats, Rhymes and Life (9)
  • Q-Tip – The Renaissance (8)

Q-Tip’s first solo single “Vivrant Thing” off Amplified, is one of my favorite hip-hop songs of all time but the record was disappointing after the success of A Tribe Called Quest. That came out in 1999 though and The Renaissance took another nine years to see the light of day. What’s different about any of the solo records from Tip or Phife is obvious after listening in order like this and while I didn’t understand enough back in the day to really grasp how much the DJ mattered, Ali Shaheed Muhammad was instrumental in making ATCQ what they were. Tip is one of the greatest rappers alive and this album is pretty unique but it’s not hard hitting like the group. It’s lighter, it’s poppier and a lot more melodic in the end. There’s a lot of great music on here, both through live instrumentation and through samples like on “What Trade.” But there’s a lot of vocals that I don’t like, particularly when others come in for choruses. But overall, it’s a smooth and soulful record while still being a hip-hop record. Good in it’s own place but up against the classics…eh.

  • Phife Dawg – Ventilation: Da LP (8)
  • A Tribe Called Quest – The Love Movement (8)
  • Evitan – Speed of Life (7.5)
  • Adrian Younge, Ali Shaheed Muhammad – Jazz is Dead 001 (7.5)
  • A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You For Your Service (7.5)
  • Q-Tip – Amplified (7)
  • Adrian Younge/Ali Shaheed Muhammad – Luke Cage Soundtrack (6)
  • Ali Shaheed Muhammad – Shadeedullah and Stereotypes (6)
  • Lucy Pearl – Lucy Pearl (6)
  • Ali Shaheed Muhammad/Adrian Younge – Run This Town Score (6)
  • Q-Tip – Kamaal/The Abstract (5)
  • Adrian Younge/Ali Shaheed Muhammad – Luke Cage Season 2 Soundtrack (5)
  • The Midnight Hour – The Midnight Hour (5)

Summary: 18 albums, average 7.5