Primer is The A.V. Club’s ongoing series of beginner’s guides to pop culture’s most notable subjects: filmmakers, music styles, literary genres, and whatever else interests us—and hopefully you. This installment: Hip-hop collective Native Tongues.
Native Tongues 101
In the summer of 1988, two albums with eerily similar titles presented radically different visions for the future of hip-hop. In August, NWA’s bomb of a gangsta masterpiece, Straight Outta Compton, blew up the hip-hop landscape, forever changing the posture, politics, and attitude of rap music and rappers trying to be hardcore. But Straight Outta Compton was released just a month after Straight Out The Jungle, the debut album from New York trio Jungle Brothers and the first release from a future member of the Native Tongues collective. Looking back, each album seems like a stylistic roadmap for a different philosophy on the future of hip-hop: Where Straight Outta Compton is aggressive and harsh and presents the members of NWA clad in black Raiders Starter jackets, Straight Out The Jungle is as mellow and playful as the ridiculous, endearing khaki safari gear Jungle Brothers wear on the cover.
The image of Jungle Brothers looking unabashedly goofy while rhyming about Afrocentric medallions and the difficulties of urban life in the late ’80s is characteristic of the movement they spawned: Native Tongues. A loosely affiliated crew composed of three founding groups (Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, and A Tribe Called Quest) and a who’s who of innovative hip-hop at the time, the members of Native Tongues were idealistic teenagers, hanging out both in and out of the studio while making groundbreaking music. The individual Tongues may have made better records as they matured, but the core Native Tongues style can be traced back to the debut albums of its founding members: Straight Out The Jungle, De La’s 3 Feet High And Rising, and Tribe’s People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm.
Straight Out The Jungle is still very much a product of the boom-bap percussion that was characteristic of East Coast hip-hop at the time, but Jungle Brothers Mike G (Michael Small), Afrika Baby Bam (Nathaniel Hall), and DJ Sammy B (Sammy Burwell) still include most of the elements of what came to be known as the Native Tongues sound on this album. There’s some jazz influence and extensive sampling (both of which appear on the Marvin Gaye homage “What’s Going On”), and the sort of social commentary made popular by Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five’s “The Message,” which is sampled on the title track. It also features several verses from a young Q-Tip, who inaugurates “Black Is Black” by shouting out his newly minted group, A Tribe Called Quest.
A critical hit mishandled commercially by Warlock Records, Jungle Brothers’ label at the time, Straight Out The Jungle might not have spawned a follow-up album, let alone an entire movement, if not for the group’s manager Fred Krute, better known as Kool DJ Red Alert. A rising star at 98.7 Kiss FM (and Mike G’s uncle), Red Alert also had a management company, Red Alert Productions, which became home to several Native Tongues acts, including A Tribe Called Quest and Monie Love. After Straight Out The Jungle failed to perform to expectations, Red Alert helped the crew dent the singles charts with the added track “I’ll House You,” which has been noted as the first hip-house track outside of the subgenre’s native Chicago.
Red Alert was also a member of Afrika Bambaataa’s Universal Zulu Nation, a quasi-religious organization promoting unity and cultural awareness through hip-hop. The Zulu ideals, embodied primarily through Afrocentrism and an emphasis on individual identity, would find a home in the music of the Native Tongues, many of whom were and remain members of the Zulu Nation.
Though the Zulu Nation began as an organization of several reformed Bronx gang members led by Bambaataa, its philosophy found its way into the music of three kids from the Amityville area of Long Island. Those teenagers—Posdnuos, Trugoy (now known as Dave), and Maseo—became Plugs One, Two, and Three as they formed the trio De La Soul. With a few sketched-out demo tracks ready, De La hooked up with Amityville producer Prince Paul, then a member of live hip-hop band Stetsasonic. The result was De La’s classic debut, 3 Feet High And Rising.
In many ways, 3 Feet High And Rising is the quintessential Native Tongues album. The record’s loose “D.A.I.S.Y. Age” (a backronym for “Da inner sound, y’all”) concept and bright, flowery cover art are the best available distillation of the Native Tongues stereotype, but its musical innovations were far more significant. The album invented, for better or (mostly) worse, the use of skits on rap albums with a light narrative about a wacky game show. And Paul’s crate-digging production exploded the possibilities of sampling as a means of creating not only new beats with a hodgepodge of classic and occasionally kitschy influences (“The Magic Number” prominently samples Schoolhouse Rock!), but also innovative pieces of music that could stand on their own without any MCing (“Cool Breeze On The Rocks”).
Perhaps more important for the collective’s future, 3 Feet High And Rising contained the first track to showcase all three founding Native Tongues: “Buddy,” which featured Jungle Brothers and Q-Tip on the studio version as well as Queen Latifah and Monie Love on the remix. “Buddy” inaugurated an era of collaboration among the founding members of Native Tongues, as well as the beginning of the collective’s recruitment of a second wave of members.
De La Soul might not have even had the opportunity to make the album without Tom Silverman of Tommy Boy Records. Silverman, an environmental science major from White Plains, New York, was immersed in the dance music and disco scene (his first venture in the music business was a disco tip sheet) and started Tommy Boy with a $5,000 loan from his parents in 1981. After getting into the hip-hop business with Afrika Bambaataa And Soulsonic Force’s danceable debut, Planet Rock, Tommy Boy became a natural home for Bambaataa’s musical and spiritual descendents. In addition to Bam and De La Soul, Tommy Boy hosted Queen Latifah, Naughty By Nature, and Prince Paul’s solo work. Warner Bros. snapped up other artists in the Native Tongues orbit (including Jungle Brothers) with the option it acquired after buying Tommy Boy and incorporating it as an imprint of the larger label.
De La Soul turned out to be a pretty good investment for Silverman; 3 Feet High And Rising was a critical and commercial hit, eventually going platinum. All of which happened, in large part, on the back of one of the least interesting tracks on the album, “Me Myself And I.” That track heavily sampled Funkadelic’s “(Not Just) Knee Deep” and Ohio Players’ “Funky Worm”—the sampling equivalent of covering The Beatles. For years after the release of 3 Feet High, “Me Myself And I” was the only song most fans wanted to hear at De La shows, an albatross that was still putting cash in the group members’ pockets. Their reaction against the success of “Me Myself And I” was a signal of the different directions each of the Native Tongues members would take as they matured and achieved success.
De La Soul and Jungle Brothers profoundly influenced A Tribe Called Quest, the nascent musical project of Queens high school students Q-Tip (né Jonathan Davis, now Kamaal Ibn John Fareed), Phife Dawg, and alias-less Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White. Q-Tip and Phife were friends from early childhood, while Q-Tip and Ali attended the same high school as Jungle Brothers. That environment proved crucial to the eventual sound of A Tribe Called Quest—while Phife and Ali worked on their battle-rapping and DJing, respectively, Q-Tip hung out in the studio with Jungle Brothers and contributed to the recording sessions for 3 Feet High And Rising. Before long, Tribe recorded its own debut, People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm, one of the most playful (and weirdest) Native Tongues releases.
People’s Instinctive Travels isn’t the most cohesive record, and it’s the closest of Tribe’s three classic albums to being a Q-Tip solo record (Phife only has a couple of verses, while Jarobi is limited to behind-the-scenes contributions), but it has remarkable depth for an album by four kids. Tracks range from being socially conscious without being lame (“Description Of A Fool”) to one of the only novelty tracks to truly transcend the form, “I Left My Wallet In El Segundo.” But the dual standouts on People’s Instinctive Travels hit both nerve centers of carefree youth: casual swagger on the Lou Reed-sampling “Can I Kick It?” and undeniable, hormone-fueled lust blurred with a tinge of romanticism on “Bonita Applebum.”
Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Q-Tip’s production was also a huge move in introducing the world to jazz rap. There had been isolated jazz-influenced cuts before (such as Stetsasonic’s “Talkin’ All That Jazz”), but People’s Instinctive Travels’ various jazzy tracks—like “Luck Of Lucien” (a slick homage to French rapper and Native Tongues collaborator Lucien Revolucien) and “Youthful Expression”—created a sonic landscape where sampling jazz organ was as natural as heavy snares. People’s Instinctive Travels sounds a bit like a creative combination of the De La and Jungle Brothers sounds: Q-Tip was not only lucky to have spent time learning from Jungle Brothers, De La, and Prince Paul in the studio, but he also got priceless recording lessons from famed Queens producer Large Professor and from producer/prominent Zulu Skeff Anselm, who was dating Q-Tip’s sister at the time.
Those three albums display idealistic teenagers fooling around and making thoughtful, innovative music as if by accident—in Brian Coleman’s hip-hop oral history Check The Technique, Phife compares the original Native Tongues recording sessions to sleepovers. The almost haphazard nature of the production extends to the origin of the Native Tongues name itself: According to Michael Rapaport’s excellent documentary, Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest, Q-Tip was at Afrika Baby Bam’s house playing around on the turntables with Coming Together, a record by Motown-offshoot funk group New Birth. One track on the album, “African Cry,” prominently features the lyric “Took away our native tongues,” which became, after being cut repeatedly as a joke and then in earnest, the name of a collective where all the members seemed to be speaking the same language. Native Tongues was born.
As the Native Tongues sound spread, other artists were sucked into its orbit. One of the first and most important of these additions was a pre-film career Queen Latifah. After Latifah came up as part of the trio Ladies Fresh while she was still in high school in New Jersey, her first single, “Wrath Of My Madness,” found its way to Tommy Boy A&R man Dante Ross, landing her a deal at the label. In 1989, Latifah released her debut album, All Hail The Queen, which includes production from Prince Paul and KRS-One. All Hail The Queen is more vocal in its consciousness and in its Afrocentrism than almost any other Native Tongues release. That’s especially true of its unabashed feminism, a subject rarely addressed by the boys’ club of Jungle Brothers, De La, and Tribe. On the Prince Paul-produced “Mama Gave Birth To The Soul Children,” Queen Latifah plays the knowing mother while De La Soul plays the soul children. And in “Ladies First,” along with its accompanying music video, Latifah’s lyrical activism found an outlet strong enough to sustain academic examination, as it shouts out several prominent black women and takes South African apartheid as one of its major themes. But “Ladies First” isn’t just an exercise in trying to engage with feminism from within hip-hop—it’s also dope as hell, and holds its own with the other Tongues.
In addition to being a badass political statement about apartheid and feminism, “Ladies First” introduced Latifah’s protégé Monie Love to American hip-hop fans. An import from London who contributed verses for Jungle Brothers and De La Soul, and learned the business touring with Queen Latifah behind “Ladies First,” Monie Love released her own debut album, Down To Earth, in late 1990. Down To Earth is much more of a party record than All Hail The Queen, spawning several charting singles ranging from the Spinners-sampling exhortation to a woman in an abusive relationship “It’s A Shame (My Sister)” to “Monie In The Middle,” a song written about Big Daddy Kane’s refusal to ask her out himself while they were both on tour with Latifah. It’s hard to imagine Monie Love, a female MC with a British accent who was more interested in wholesome partying and poetry than props, being even remotely successful without the founding Native Tongues.
Instead of being focused on poetry and positivity for idealistic reasons, Dres (Andres Titus) of Black Sheep avoided gangsta rap because he had actually been in prison for almost a year before spending the better part of a second year in a halfway house. After that unpleasant experience, Dres vowed not to glorify the life that had put him there. Once he was released from the halfway house, Dres ran into Mista Lawnge, an old friend who had started running with Red Alert and Jungle Brothers. With Dres rapping and Lawnge on the boards, the pair set out to record A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing, their debut as Black Sheep. Both the Black Sheep and A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing names served to distance the group slightly from Dres’ criminal background—in a HipHop DX interview, he recalls spending the entire year before the release of A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing with a gun on him and feeling more comfortable around hustlers than people wearing kente cloths. Musically, A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing distinguishes itself from releases by De La and Tribe in a few ways: It embraces the less wholesome parts of the “party” half of party records in its obsession with sex (Q-Tip is featured on a song titled “La Menage”) and the radio-ready rowdiness of its singles (especially “The Choice Is Yours,” a ridiculously catchy track now famous mostly for being featured in Kia commercials). It is also more down-to-earth than any Jungle Brothers or Tribe release—the big posse cut is called “Pass The 40.” Otherwise A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing, a record made in part to prove Black Sheep could hang with the rest of the Tongues, fits right in with their collected discography, particularly the gangsta-mocking skit “U Mean I’m Not,” which reportedly caused the entire Tongues crew to fall over laughing when Dres played it for them.
In the same way Queen Latifah introduced American audiences to Monie Love on “Ladies First,” the founding members of Native Tongues often used their own singles to break in new affiliated artists. None of these introductions was more successful than A Tribe Called Quest’s classic posse cut “Scenario,” which prominently featured the group Leaders Of The New School. A group composed of Long Islanders Charlie Brown, Cut Monitor Milo, Dinco D, and a young Busta Rhymes (Trevor Smith), Leaders Of The New School was anointed by Chuck D (who named Busta and Charlie Brown) during a stint opening for Public Enemy. After Chuck introduced Leaders Of The New School to Q-Tip, the group collaborated on a few of the sessions for Tribe’s second album, The Low End Theory, including several alternate versions of “Scenario” featuring Posdnuos, Jarobi, and even Tribe’s manager at the time, the late Chris Lighty, who was a protégé of both Red Alert and Russell Simmons. The crew’s debut, A Future Without A Past, spawned tracks like “Case Of The PTA” that were far more focused on daily life in high school than the releases from their fellow teenagers. Though they released two solid albums, Leaders Of The New School are still remembered most for their verses on “Scenario” and spawning the often-absurd, sublime career of Busta Rhymes.
Leaders Of The New School were also members of The Nation Of Gods And Earth (also referred to as Five Percenters), an offshoot of the Nation Of Islam popular in the hip-hop community that found a home with other Tongues affiliates, most notably Brand Nubian. An old-school crew composed of three MCs (Grand Puba, Sadat X, and Lord Jamar) and two DJs (DJs Alamo and Sincere), Brand Nubian came out of New Rochelle, New York, where the older Puba had been a part of another group called Masters Of Ceremony before hooking up with Sadat and Jamar. The first artist signed by Dante Ross after he left Tommy Boy for Elektra, Brand Nubian released 1990’s One For All, its only album as a full group before Puba left to pursue a solo career. (He later returned for 1998’s Foundation, which lacked Sincere.) Like A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing, One For All combines serious, political material that might be more aptly compared to KRS-One than De La Soul with playful, sexual humor and funky beats on tracks like “Drop The Bomb,” which includes the hippest-ever description of the politics of poverty. “Slow Down,” the group’s breakout hit, features rhymes about the desperation of crackheads over an infectious Edie Brickell sample, effectively capturing Puba as a man Ross describes in Check The Technique as “caught between the Koran and the street.”
As One For All dropped, the founding Native Tongues were preparing to release their sophomore albums. Jungle Brothers released the excellent Done By The Forces Of Nature in 1989, which improved on Straight Out The Jungle and included one of the great Native Tongues collaborations: “Doin’ Our Own Dang,” which featured De La, Q-Tip, Queen Latifah, and Monie Love. But 1991 saw the release of A Tribe Called Quest’s and De La Soul’s remarkable sophomore albums, The Low End Theory and De La Soul Is Dead. Down one man (Jarobi left the group to go to culinary school) and dealing with the health problems of another (Phife’s diabetes), Tribe came together on an album that, while still lyrically excellent (“Yo, microphone check, one two, what is this? / The 5-foot assassin with the roughneck business”), takes the Native Tongues to a new sonic level. With the help of engineer Bob Power, Q-Tip explored his fascination with none other than N.W.A. by ramping up the bass on tracks like “Buggin’ Out” and “Scenario” while simultaneously bringing the Native Tongues’ affinity for jazz to fruition—going beyond the track “Jazz (We’ve Got),” jazz bassist Ron Carter plays live on “Verses From The Abstract.” And De La Soul Is Dead took the raw musical talent of 3 Feet High And Rising and went darker. While there are still joyous moments—“A Roller Skating Jam Named ‘Saturdays,’”—there are just as many tracks like “My Brother’s A Basehead” and “Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa” that deal with crack addiction or child abuse. And De La’s skits, once used for game-show shenanigans, were now employed to declare the end of the D.A.I.S.Y. Age. Native Tongues wasn’t dead, but it certainly wasn’t the same.
What was arguably the driving force of Native Tongues—teenagers hanging out and making music—met its logical conclusion in the work of Chi-Ali Griffith (better known simply as Chi-Ali), who got his first famous verse on Black Sheep’s posse cut “Pass The 40” and recorded his debut at age 14. That album, The Fabulous Chi-Ali, was released in 1992 when he was 16. The record, though nothing to sneeze at lyrically, features solid production and was a surprising commercial success on the back of tracks like “Age Ain’t Nothin’ But A #” and “Funky Lemonade.” The older Tongues’ influence on the album was palpable—“Let The Horns Blow” featured Dres, Trugoy, The Beatnuts’ Kool Fashion, and Phife Dawg, and the graffiti on the album cover reads “Native Son… Native Tongue.” Though Chi-Ali did little musically after his debut (besides an appearance on Dres’ first solo album), he made headlines in a much sadder fashion. In 2000, Chi-Ali shot and killed his then-girlfriend’s brother in the Bronx and evaded arrest for a period of just over a year, during which he was featured on America’s Most Wanted twice. He then served a prison term from which he was released in 2012.
The Fabulous Chi-Ali was successful in large part because it was almost entirely produced by Native Tongues affiliates The Beatnuts. The only Latino members of the collective, producers JuJu and Psycho Les, then calling themselves Beat Kings, were introduced by Afrika Bambaataa to Jungle Brothers, who dubbed them “nuts” for their clownish personas and for carrying so many records to every show. After starting their musical relationship with Native Tongues producing “Pups Lickin’ Bone” on Monie Love’s Down To Earth and most of The Fabulous Chi-Ali, The Beatnuts released their own debut, Intoxicated Demons, in 1993, showcasing the slimy jazz and funk of the then-trio (including rapper Kool Fashion). Intoxicated Demons took the Native Tongues sound and lyrically amped up both the comedy and the hedonism with lyrics like “Now, I’m on a rampage, prepare for the slaughter / Lyrical monster busting nuts in your daughter” on the Brand Nubian-sampling single “Reign Of The Tec.”
By 1993, Native Tongues seemed to be drifting apart, as the founding members each released an album representing different attitudes toward the collective. Jungle Brothers’ J Beez Wit The Remedy ran into significant troubles with Warner Bros. before its final, substantially watered-down version. De La Soul’s Buhloone Mindstate, though a slightly more conventional Tongues album, features little collaboration from a group that had already declared their early sound dead. And A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders, arguably the best album by a member of the collective, concludes with a series of wistful tracks that appear to be summing up the end of something special. Q-Tip has openly stated that The Low End Theory “really broke us out of the Native Tongues stereotype.” On Buhloone Mindstate’s “In The Woods,” Posdnuos pronounces, “That native shit is dead.”
But a slightly younger generation took up the Native Tongues mantle heading into the new millennium. The crew inspired similarly minded artists across the country, including Chicago native Lonnie Rashid Lynn, a.k.a. Common. Though he’d been making music since the late ’80s, Common’s hip-hop ambitions didn’t fully take off until a trip to New York introduced him to Brand Nubian and Leaders Of The New School. His 1992 debut as Common Sense, Can I Borrow A Dollar?, was a scattered collection of demo tracks, but for the next album, Common and producer No I.D. (Dion Wilson) tried to, in Common’s words, make “some cold-blooded shit that can get played with A Tribe Called Quest.” The 1994 album Resurrection succeeded on all fronts. The album was a leap forward musically, especially the classic “I Used To Love H.E.R,” which uses a woman enraptured by the siren song of materialism as a metaphor for gangsta rap’s thoughtless domination of hip-hop. Common was only loosely associated with Native Tongues at the time, but closely affiliated with their themes and positive energy. And Native Tongues became the template for the Soulquarians, the early-’00s loose collective Common belonged to, along with Questlove, Erykah Badu, and others.
Though Common has had the most continued success of the late Native Tongues, another artist from the Midwest with a crucial role in the Soulquarians has had a substantial effect on contemporary music and greater success in growing and evolving the Native Tongues sound. Born into a musical family in Detroit, J Dilla came up with rappers Baatin and T3 as part of the Detroit group Slum Village. The group’s first, unofficial record Fan-Tas-Tic, Vol. 1 caught the attention of Q-Tip, who brought Dilla in to collaborate with him and Ali Shaheed Muhammad as the trio The Ummah. As part of The Ummah, Dilla was largely responsible for the sound of the last two A Tribe Called Quest albums, and later produced much of Q-Tip’s solo material before achieving a cult-like status all on his own after his death in 2006.
Back in New York, De La Soul’s fourth album, 1996’s Stakes Is High (the group’s first without Prince Paul), a record deeply concerned with the state of hip-hop (the titular high stakes), introduced a promising young MC going by the moniker Mos Def . Though Mos Def had planned on releasing his debut with the guidance of De La Soul, his chemistry with a similarly minded artist named Talib Kweli led the solo release to be put on hold in favor of a collaboration under the name Black Star. Perhaps the biggest difference between that album, 1998’s Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, and the earlier Tongues releases is a consistent thoughtfulness that largely eschews feel-good party tracks: Where 3 Feet High And Rising plays around with Schoolhouse Rock! samples, Black Star’s “Thieves In The Night” is an homage to Toni Morrison, and the group’s name is a reference to Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line. In many ways, Black Star is a culmination of the original ideals of Native Tongues in an era when it seemed those values were being ignored by hip-hop at large—not for nothing does single “Definition” recount and decry the violent death of multiple MCs in the mid-’90s.
Some of the specifics of the Native Tongues membership have been disputed over the years—in particular, the status of later affiliates like Common, Mos Def, and J Dilla. But other artists who were definitely affiliated with the larger crew haven’t remained as relevant or immediate, even those with notable contributions to hip-hop at the time. Trio Fu-Schnickens worked with Tribe on a debut record that helped introduce kung-fu imagery to hip-hop before Wu-Tang Clan and oversaw the beginnings of Shaquille O’Neal’s rap career on novelty single “What’s Up Doc? (Can We Rock),” which has Shaq saying Bugs Bunny’s catchphrase. Jamaican and Trinidadian trio Da Bush Babees released two mildly successful albums featuring production from Ali Shaheed Muhammad, The Ummah, and Posdnous, but the trio is likely most notable for including several early verses from Mos Def on its album Gravity.
Some artists maintained the musical innovation of the earlier Tongues records, but lacked the idealism. In particular, Prince Paul’s solo work is engaging and worth listening to on its own, but can’t quite be pegged as Native Tongues music—it’s far too broad, and is rarely socially conscious. Still others advanced political ideology similar to Brand Nubian or Black Star, but simply weren’t in the same circles—most notably trio KMD, which featured heavy sampling over intensely political lyrics from idealistic teenagers, including a young MF Doom still going by Zev Love X. Like KMD and Doom’s later work, an extraordinary percentage of ’90s and ’00s hip-hop was strongly influenced by Native Tongues. An account of every single artist even loosely affiliated with a member of the crew would increase this list exponentially. It’s enough to recognize that the original Tongues’ fingerprints are all over contemporary hip-hop, from Pharrell to Kanye West to Kendrick Lamar.
The Native Tongues may have presented themselves in opposition to some of the less savory trends in hip-hop at the time, but they didn’t avoid social tone-deafness. The worst of these songs thankfully never made it to an official release. During the sessions for The Low End Theory, Tribe and Brand Nubian collaborated on “Georgie Porgie,” one of the most unequivocally homophobic tracks in the history of hip-hop (a genre already prone to bouts of homophobia). In one of the best decisions ever made by a record label, Jive refused to release the track; the beat was reused for “Show Business.” The final track still featured the members of Brand Nubian with the exception of Grand Puba, who declined to participate in protest. The bigotry of “Georgie Porgie,” while perhaps not so surprising from teenagers in the early ’90s (particularly ones who made the “The Infamous Date Rape” on that same record), is still shocking from the same group that made the exceedingly nuanced “Sucka Nigga” and “Description Of A Fool.”
As the founding Native Tongues aged, their musical output became less immediate. Jungle Brothers have continued to release a string of unmemorable albums but aren’t currently together. While the final two Tribe albums—Beats, Rhymes, And Life and The Love Movement—have some solid tracks and an interesting new sonic direction (they were mostly produced by Dilla under The Ummah name), they’re also fairly forgettable. After Midnight Marauders, A Tribe Called Quest didn’t have much more to say. It’s telling that the best track to appear on The Love Movement was an older bonus remix of “Scenario.” Meanwhile, De La Soul has stayed together with a minimum of fuss, releasing mostly decent albums and one phenomenal late-period record (2004’s The Grind Date). The group has been making the rounds again in preparation for its eighth album, You’re Welcome.
There’s been consistent clamor for a Native Tongues reunion since the mid-’90s, with each of the members blaming the others for the delay in making one happen. The tensions between the founding Native Tongues is unfortunate, but in some ways is a blessing; it’s hard to imagine a real Native Tongues reunion going well. The Native Tongues collective was formed, more than anything else, by like-minded, idealistic youngsters developing intense friendships based in a love of music. Watching an attempt to translate the near-magical ties of wide-eyed adolescence to those same people in middle age? Say no go.