1998 was a pretty momentous year. Charles Woodson capped off a historic campaign leading Michigan to a college football national championship, Google was launched by a pair of Stanford PhD students, Exxon acquired Mobil for a whopping $73.7 billion to become the largest company on the planet, Michael Jordan ended his Bulls career with 45 points and a game-winning bucket over the Utah Jazz, and Bill Clinton was knee-deep in a scandal that would eventually lead to his impeachment.
But 1998 was also significant for another reason: it was the year I discovered a rap group by the name of A Tribe Called Quest. While I credit The Roots' Things Fall Apart for developing my love affair with hip-hop music, ATCQ's The Love Movement served as the introduction. My 12-year-old ears relished the smooth sounds of Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and Ali. The only rap music I had really listened to up to that point was MC Hammer's Please Hammer, Don't Hurt ‘Em.
So, when The Abstract announced via Instagram that the iconic group from New York would be releasing their final album on November 11, I was ecstatic, to say the least. Since the collective disbanded over personal and creative differences, as well as record label frustrations, I have desperately hoped, prayed, and wished for the influential rap group to reunite and create their signature sound once again.
However, with each member pursuing their personal musical ventures — Q-Tip launched a solo career that produced three successful projects, Phife Dawg maintained a relatively low profile after releasing Ventilation: Da LP, while Ali Shaheed linked up with Raphael Saadiq and Dawn Robinson to form the short-lived supergroup Lucy Pearl — and the growing tension between Phife Dawg and Q-Tip, the likelihood of a reunion seemed hopeless. But back in 2011 things seemed to change. Michael Rapaport's documentary Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest cast a huge spotlight on the rap trio and sparked a growing demand for new material.
While the group reunited in 2004 for various performances at festivals and concerts, they were still regurgitating the same, old — albeit exquisite — material. Though Q-Tip hinted in 2013 that those were the last performances we would ever see from Tribe together as a group, there was a subtle sense of optimism. Surely, Phife and Q-Tip couldn't possibly be at odds with each other forever, right? Then, just a year ago, ATCQ celebrated the 25th anniversary of their classic debut album People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm with a commemorative re-release andra televised performance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Their chemistry was electric. The Phife vs. Q-Tip beef was finally settled. And with De LA Soul’s crowdsourcing campaign receiving a significant amount of support, the demand for fresh tunes from the originators of alternative hip-hop was reaching its fever pitch. Finally, we would bear witness to new music from the legendary rap group. Then the unthinkable happened when we received news of Phife’s untimely death in March of this year.
With no mention of studio sessions, the chances of a follow-up to The Love Movement were once again squashed, this time forever. There’s no way ATCQ could ever do an album without Phife’s signature bars. The group’s identity depended on it. However, in late August, during a podcast, L.A. Reid revealed what I had desperately hoped for: A final ATCQ album was in the works. Thus, with Q-Tip’s confirmation coming just days ago, and a release date less than two weeks away, the pioneering hip-hop savants are finally back to give us what we’ve been waiting so long for. But this is it. Though we’ve been told this before, there will never be another Tribe album. The conclusion to one of the most influential musical groups of our lifetimes is upon us. And while it's great that they were able to capture their magic one last time, it's incredibly bittersweet.