A Tribe Called Quest was an influential hip hop group of the 1990s, originally formed in Queens, New York City in 1985. The group is comprised of Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad. A fourth member, Jarobi White, was an intermittent collaborator appearing on their first album, but he left the group soon after, although he is mentioned as a ‘sometimes’ member on their third album liner notes. Along with De La Soul, the group was a central part of the Native Tongues Posse, and enjoyed the most commercial success out of all the groups to emerge from that collective.
Q-Tip and Phife had grown up together in Queens, and met Muhammad in high school. The group’s name was coined by The Jungle Brothers, whose members attended the same school. Soon after, the group began performing live and recording on a local label. The group became a part of the Native Tongues family, a Hip-Hop artist collective also consisting of the groups Jungle Brothers, De La Soul and Black Sheep.
At the time of their inception, A Tribe Called Quest was unique within the hip-hop community for eschewing gangsta rap and macho posturing. Their lyrics focused on abstract and social issues such as the word “nigger”, date rape and consumerism. Musically, the group helped pioneer the jazz-rap style (along with groups such as Gang Starr and De La Soul). They made their studio debut in 1990 with People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm.