Watch A Tribe Called Quest takeover David Letterman
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Watch A Tribe Called Quest takeover David Letterman

A Tribe Called Quest is one of hip-hop’s most underrated and unappreciated crews. Formed in New York’s legendary borough of Queens, the home of Run-DMC and Mobb Deep, A Tribe Called Quest was pivotal in popularising alternative hip-hop during the 1990s.

Comprised of Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and rapper Jarobi White, the crew’s jazz-infused work saw them establish a unique breakaway sound. Labelled initially as “progressive rap”, the subgenre and aesthetic would come to be known as jazz-hop by the late 1990s.

The ensemble’s creators, Q-Tip and Phife Dawg, were childhood friends who had grown up together in the St. Albans neighbourhood of Queens. In the mid-1980s, the two would record demos. However, wanting to follow in the footsteps of local acts such as Juice Crew, the duo decided to expand and recruited two more members.

These individuals were Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White. The former was a high school classmate, and the latter a neighbourhood friend. The four-piece outfit was recorded under many monikers, including Crush Connection and Quest. However, in 1988 they finally settled with A Tribe Called Quest. Appearing on underground records alongside acts such as Jungle Brothers, De La Soul and Roots, in 1989, the crew hired hip-hop’s gatekeeper Kool DJ Red Alert as their manager and slowly but surely climbed up the New York hip-hop ranks.

Following the themes surrounding Afrocentrism and The Five-Percent Nation that were arising in neo-soul and other areas of hip-hop, A Tribe Called Quest snowballed to become one of New York’s most sought-after acts alongside the likes of Wu-Tang Clan and Junior M.A.F.I.A. The ensemble’s 1993 album Midnight Marauders is still regarded as a hip-hop classic, with its single ‘Electric Relaxation’ among one of the best hip-hop tracks ever made, and their 1990 single, ‘Bonita Applebum’ is thought to be the jazz-hop record ever made. 

In 1996, the crew released one of their most iconic singles, ‘Stressed Out’ from their 1996 project Beats, Rhymes and Life. Produced by The Ummah, the song features Faith Evans, and, in promotion of their fourth body of work, the group performed ‘Stressed Out’ on The David Letterman Show in 1997. You can watch the televised performance in the video below.