Within the growing, strange community of hip-hop nerds on Instagram and Reddit, there exists an endless debate — one that rarely finds agreeable middleground or any established, solid criteria for fair competition. It typically prompts some obligatory discussion in the comments: what is the greatest rap group of all time? Replies almost always consist of Wu-Tang Clan, OutKast, Gang Starr, or N.W.A. In my opinion, the coveted title righteously belongs to A Tribe Called Quest.
Phife Dog, Q-Tip, Jarobi White, and Ali Shaheed Muhammed practically owned the genre of jazz rap in their prime; these guys got me into rap and hip-hop music, along with a few other artists. I felt it might be fun to rank their six studio albums from worst to best, in my (meaningless) opinion.
6. The Love Movement (1998)
It’s a shame to rank this album at the bottom of my list — “Find a Way” and “Busta’s Lament” are two of my favorite Tribe songs. There’s just too much filler in this project; a majority of the tracks are forgettable.
5. Beats Rhymes & Life (1996)
Definitely a solid jazz rap album. “The Hop” and “The Jam” are both staples when it comes to the group’s discography.
4. People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990)
An undeniable classic — their debut album is filled with songs that brought them early fame and acclaim. People’s was one of the original projects that sparked the explosion of jazz rap, alongside Gang Starr and Souls of Mischief. Songs like “Bonita Applebottom” and “Can I Kick It?” are obviously essential when it comes to cataloging their hits.
3. We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (2016)
Following the unfortunate death of Phife Dawg in 2016, the remaining members of A Tribe Called Quest put together an album in honor of their late companion. Almost twenty years later, the group effortlessly picked up right where they left off; the album is packed with some of the group’s best music — “The Space Program” is likely my favorite album-opener of their entire discography. Samples from Elton John and a feature from Kendrick Lamar make this project feel fresh and familiar; it’s rare that a reunion album sounds this incredible. Closing track “The Donald” is a heartfelt homage to Phife, tying the album together nicely.
2. Midnight Marauders (1993)
Front to back, there isn’t a bad song on this entire album; every jazz and funk sample finds its place somewhere in the scheme of the record. How was any rap group supposed to live up to the monstrous expectations laid down by the release of the Low End Theory? It was a daunting task — one that only Tribe could complete. Midnight Marauders will fully immerse you in a landscape of slick rhymes, buttery flows, and groovy beats; this is the world of jazz rap, pioneered and mastered by A Tribe Called Quest.
1. The Low End Theory (1991)
The absolute pinnacle of jazz rap, this album is a monumental achievement in the world of hip-hop. All killer, no filler — this project was one of the first to introduce me to rap music. There isn’t much that hasn’t been said about this album that I could add; the project simply lacks any flaws.
Robbie Baker is .WAVs Content Director, he wrote the article. Yazmeen Trinity is part of .WAVs art team, she made the graphic.