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BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time: Q-Tip/A Tribe Called Quest

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#10 – Q-Tip/A Tribe Called Quest

By AMIR SAID (SA’ID)

Q-Tip/A Tribe Called Quest.

Let’s be clear: In hip hop/rap music, there is a before and after A Tribe Called Quest. Tribe was vital to hip hop/rap’s early 1990s explosion. Not only did they help develop and solidify New York’s “90s” style and sound, they introduced a new and inventive rhyme component to hip hop/rap music. But for the purposes of the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers list, it’s the Tribe-produced beats that I’m more focused on. And the lead man in this regard is Q-Tip.

NOTE: Production credit on A Tribe Called Quest albums never singled out Q-Tip, but instead cited the entire group. That said, it’s largely understood that Q-Tip made most of the beats for the group with additional production input from Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Phife Dawg. Thus, since I do not have direct evidence at this point who in fact made the beats where A Tribe Called Quest was credited for production, I feel comfortable referencing “Q-Tip/A Tribe Called Quest.” Further, some people will note that J-Dilla produced for A Tribe Called Quest. This is true. However, it must be pointed out that Dilla’s involvement with Tribe appears to have taken place after Tribe’s first three (and perhaps most distinguishable) albums were already released.

The Tribe sound is usually praised for its unique snares. And while Q-Tip/Tribe do indeed deserve praise for their snares, it’s their rhythmic structures that stand out most to me. They were masters of drum breaks just as much as they were with drum frameworks made up entirely of individual drum hits. Further, when it came to loops, Q-Tip/Tribe were among those at the top. Now, no two loops are ever the same. That is, each beatmaker has a different approach for looping complete or half-phrases (study Showbiz for further examples of what I mean). The way that Q-Tip looped phrases was not always a straight forward (complete), 2-bar rendering. Whether he used 2 bars or 4 for the main groove of a track, often the phrases that he used were blended together with other phrases. But unlike the harsh and rupturing blends of The Bomb Squad, Q-Tip’s blends were quite smooth; you often couldn’t tell that there were actually many different samples at work rather than one. For example of what I mean, listen to “Bonita Applebum”.

Q-Tip/A Tribe Called Quest were also pioneers when it came to using jazz samples. But where others in the era were satisfied with using looped sax-stabs and the like, Q-Tip perfected the style of dropping stray organ lines, elongated horns, and upright bass — not electric — lines (listen to “Excursions” or “Buggin’ Out” for examples of Q-Tip’s use of upright bass samples). And Q-Tip/A Tribe Called Quest also stand out for how they treated their snares drums with reverb. Reverb was long a apart of the mix process and to be certain, other beatmakers used reverb on their drums. But Q-Tip/A Tribe Called Quest made it a crucial component of their sound.

Finally, here again we have yet another beatmaker who also rhymed. (This is especially important to point out, because in today’s scene, far too many beatmakers don’t believe that they could also be rappers.) Just as with Ju Ju and Psycho Les of The Beatnuts, Havoc of Mobb Deep, DJ Paul and Juicy J, and Showbiz, Q-Tip didn’t just rhyme as a side-job, it was his full-time gig as 1/3rd of A Tribe Called Quest. In fact, Q-Tip and Tribe Called Quest’s rhymin’ created and established an entirely new style and sound of rapping. For this, Q-Tip also holds the prestigious distinction of being in the canon of hip hop/rap as both beatmaker and rhymer.

The music and videos below are presented here for the purpose of scholarship.

Q-Tip/A Tribe Called Quest Beats (Songs) Recommended for Study:

SPECIAL NOTE: Listen to Tribe’s first three albums straight through! Not only do all three albums represent a spot on the top 10 hip hop/rap albums of all time, they are incredibly important in terms of their collective contribution to the beatmaking tradition.

“Steve Biko (Stir it UP) – A Tribe Called Quest beat by Q-Tip/A Tribe Called Quest

“Excursions” – A Tribe Called Quest beat by Q-Tip/A Tribe Called Quest

“Scenario” – A Tribe Called Quest feat. Leaders of the New School beat by Q-Tip/A Tribe Called Quest

“Ham ‘N’ Eggs” – A Tribe Called Quest beat by Q-Tip/A Tribe Called Quest

“Lyrics to Go” – A Tribe Called Quest beat by Q-Tip/A Tribe Called Quest

“Luck of Lucien” – A Tribe Called Quest beat by Q-Tip/A Tribe Called Quest

“The Infamous Date Rape” – A Tribe Called Quest beat by Q-Tip/A Tribe Called Quest

“Electric Relaxation” – A Tribe Called Quest beat by Q-Tip/A Tribe Called Quest

“Can I Kick It” – A Tribe Called Quest beat by Q-Tip/A Tribe Called Quest

“Check the Rhime”

“Push It Along” – A Tribe Called Quest beat by Q-Tip/A Tribe Called Quest

“Bonita Applebaum” – A Tribe Called Quest beat by Q-Tip/A Tribe Called Quest

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About Author

Amir Said (aka Sa’id) is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of BeatTips. A writer, publisher, and beatmaker/rapper from New York, Said is the author of a number of books, including ‘The BeatTips Manual,’ ‘The Art of Sampling,’ ‘Ghetto Brother,’ and ‘The Truth About New York.’ He is also a recording artist with a number of music projects, including his latest album 'The Best of Times.' Follow him on Twitter at: @amirsaid and @BeatTipsManual

  • DJ Rashiiid

    Plus Q-Tip’s production work for his own solo albums, plus bangers like Apache’s “Gangsta Bitch”, Nas’ “One Love” and Mobb Deep joints.