April 10, 1970
Brooklyn, New York, United States
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As the lead MC and co-founder of the rap group A Tribe Called Quest, rapper Q-Tip helped shape an alternative style of hip-hop. Formed in New York during the mid-1980s, A Tribe Called Quest infused rap with jazz, funk and World beats that formed the backdrop for the group's platinum-selling albums The Low End Theory (1991) and Beats, Rhymes and Life (1996). With Q-Tip taking the reigns as lead songwriter, A Tribe Called Quest delivered timeless hip-hop jams such as "Scenario" (1992) and "Award Tour" (1993) that influenced everyone from The Fugees to Kanye West. In 1999, Q-Tip launched his solo career with Amplified (1999), which ushered the rapper to pop and neo-soul territory with mainstream hits "Vivrant Thing" and "Breathe and Stop." The iconoclastic and hardworking Q-Tip delivered even when he was not producing his own records, from appearing as a guest vocalist to producing other talent, yet his influential work with A Tribe Called Quest remained his crowning achievement as a hip-hop maverick.He was born Johnathan Davis on April 10, 1970 in Brooklyn, NY and raised in the St. Albans neighborhood of Queens. His father hailed from the British territory of Montserrat while his mother was from Alabama. The stage name Q-Tip was given to him by Afrika Baby Bam of the hip-hop group the Jungle Brothers, while the Q in his moniker stood for Queens. He later changed his legal name to Kamal Ibn John Fareed after converting to Islam in the mid-1990s. In 1985, Q-Tip formed the rap group A Tribe Called Quest with childhood friend Phife Dawg and frequent collaborator Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Around the same time, a hip-hop collective called the Native Tongues emerged in New York along with groups such as the Jungle Brothers and De La Soul. Their musical style that infused Afrocentric lyrics, jazz and funk instrumentations tied these groups together and set the tone for A Tribe Called Quest's debut album People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990). The soulful grooves of the singles "Can I Kick It?" and "Bonita Applebaum" made the album a moderate hit on the R&B/Hip-Hop chart at No. 23, yet it peaked at a disappointing No. 91 on the mainstream list.Q-Tip took on a bigger role in the production of the Tribe's sophomore album The Low End Theory, co-writing all the tracks. Even though the group was reportedly inspired by the harder hitting "gangsta rap" sub-genre that originated on the West Coast, The Low End Theory stripped down its musical elements to incorporate a more laid-back sound with the singles "Check the Rhime" and "Jazz (We've Got)." It was not until the release of its third single "Scenario" where A Tribe demonstrated heavier bass lines and grittier vocals, thanks to featured guest vocalist Busta Rhymes. The Low End Theory outperformed its predecessor, reaching No. 45 on the Billboard Hot 200. The album later ranked No. 154 on Rolling Stone magazine's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time."Q-Tip and company were aware of the immense pressure to match the commercial and critical success of The Low End Theory, and they exceeded expectations with 1993's Midnight Marauders, which included the group's biggest selling single "Award Tour." Lyrically, Q-Tip and his collaborators wrote about contemporary issues such as racism and urban violence, but kept the old-school jazz and soulful vibe that dominated the group's previous releases. A Tribe went much darker in 1996 with Beats, Rhymes and Life, which coincided with the ongoing and often fatal feud between East and West Coast rappers. The group took a neutral stance not only with its affiliations, but also by sending a message of peace to the hip-hop community. Beats, Rhymes and Life topped the Billboard Hot 200 as well as the R&B/Hip-Hop chart, and earned the group Grammy Award nominations in 1997 for Best Rap Album and Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. In the meantime, Q-Tip pursued a solo career following the release of The Love Movement, the group's fifth studio album.
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