By Harry Colbert, Jr.
This past Friday A Tribe Called Quest released its most recent – and final – album, “Thanks 4 Your Service … We Got it from Here,” an album that features the last bars from the late Phife Dawg.
The announcement of the project came to the delight of fans of Tribe and of hip-hop. The project comes at the perfect time for those attending the Walker Art Center’s Avant Garden, Nov. 19; as the fundraising event will be DJed by Tribe’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad.
Muhammad said with the March 22 passing of Phife, who died of kidney failure – a complication from diabetes – that Phife’s earthly presence may have come to an end but his legacy and his music lives on.
“Phife was 5’3” but he was a giant,” said Muhammad. “I was blessed to have him as a brother.”
As with most hip-hop collectives, the ones with the microphones get most of the attention. Tribe is no exception with Phife and Q-Tip getting more of the fan notoriety, but that’s not to say the DJ is an afterthought. Music insiders are quick to point out Muhammad, who produced several classic Tribe cuts, was as important and as valued as Phife and Q-Tip. Not only a DJ and producer, Muhammad is a credited writer on all five Tribe studio LPs. Beyond Tribe, the pioneering DJ is credited for producing the song that ushered in the neo-soul era, D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar.” Muhammad, who was a part of the super-group Lucy Pearl with Raphael Saddiq (Tony! Toni! Toné!) and Dawn Robinson (En Vogue), also produced for Eric Benet, Angie Stone, the late Gil Scott Heron and others. Fans of the Netflix series, “Luke Cage” can hear Muhammad’s handy work in the show’s score.
Muhammad said while he is authentically hip-hop, much of his sound is rooted in jazz, with influences of Donald Byrd, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. Asked how Tribe has been able to remain relevant some 25 years since its debut, Muhammad said it’s quite simple.
“When something is sincere and truthful it will stand the test of time,” explained Muhammad.
Muhammad’s brings his truthfulness to the Walker, 1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, for Avant Garden, Nov. 19. Tickets for the fundraising event start at $125 and proceeds go toward the Walker’s artistic and educational programming. Tickets can be purchased at www.walkerart.org.