A Tribe Called Quest’s Phife Dawg says fans should expect the first single from his group’s reunion LP to drop in the fall and the album in the winter — the winter of 2004, that is. No, the Tribe’s full-fledged reformation isn’t going to blast off right away, but we will get a taste of what’s to come very soon.
The trio of Phife, Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad teamed up last month for the first time in many moons to record the song “(ICU) Doin’ It,” which will be a track on the upcoming Violator Records compilation V3: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
“Our records sound like we never left,” Phife beamed last week on the phone from San Diego. “The chemistry never dwindled. We saw each other for the first time in a minute, but it sounded like we never stopped recording with each other. The voices are pretty much the same. Tip’s still got the whole nasal, abstract thing going on. My voice grew a little bit … that’s the only difference, my voice sounds a little older.
“[‘(ICU) Doin’ It’ is] a vintage joint,” he added. “A call-and-response, like that record we did on the Love Movement, ‘Against the World.’ Or the hook to ‘Check the Rhyme’: ‘You on point, Phife?’ [We’re] going back and forth like that. It was produced by Rashad Smith’s crew, Tumbling Dice.”
The five-foot freak, as he calls himself, said that ever since the word got out that he and his crew had gotten back together and were making another album, everyone’s been sending them tracks to rhyme to.
“One problem that I’ve seen thus far is that a lot of producers come to me and say, ‘I got the Tribe sound locked, I know exactly what y’all need,’ ” Phife said. “I don’t think they should do that because first of all, you don’t have the Tribe sound locked. We don’t even know what the Tribe sound is. It’s a vibe that we’ve got when we go into the studio. That’s not what you do when you want to submit beats. Submit what you’re best at doing and if we like it, we’re going to spit to it. Tribe is no exception as far as trying to be different [is concerned]. Just send some hot sh–.”
Tribe’s vibe in the early ’90s strayed away from the norms of the style of rap music at that time. Breaking new ground in hip-hop with their socially conscious lyrics and jazz-infused tracks, three of the group’s most highly influential releases — People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990), The Low End Theory (1991) and Midnight Marauders (1993) — were hailed as classics, paving the way for equally eclectic rap groups such as Outkast.
Phife isn’t sure about when his crew will actually begin recording its new disc, but he does mention that the group members have been keeping busy. Both Q-Tip and Ali have solo LPs dropping soon and Phife is trying to help launch the careers of some up-and-coming acts he’s taken under his wing. Also contributing to the delay of the album’s start date was the recent death of Q-Tip’s longtime manager.
Itching to perform again, two-thirds of Tribe made a surprise appearance earlier in the month during a De La Soul show at L.A.’s House of Blues. Tip and Phife jumped onstage and gave the fans a special treat.
“We would’ve gotten tomatoes if we ain’t do the Tribe joints and we [was] onstage together,” the Dawg laughed. “We could’ve freestyled, but I think we needed to do at least one Tribe joint. We ended up doing three joints together. The singles, ‘Check the Rhyme,’ ‘Find a Way’ and ‘Award Tour.’ They were pretty exhausted by the end of the show, which I was quite happy with.”