Saturday, April 9, 2011

April 9: A Tribe Called Quest, "Bonita Applebum"

Artist: A Tribe Called Quest
Song: "Bonita Applebum"
Album: People's Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm
Year: 1990

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Whenever there is any sort of dominant sound, there will be those artists that make a point of playing music that is as far away from it as possible.  This was the reason why sounds like punk, heavy metal, and even bop-style jazz all came into existence, and yet one can easily see how even within each of these styles, the same idea can be found in the sub-groups therein.  Though each genre has had many occurrences of this trend, it was perhaps never as obvious as when the "underground" scene began to emerge from the shadow of the so-called "gangsta rap" movement of the late 1980's and early 1990's.  While many of the artists in this underground scene had their own, unique takes on the hip-hop sound, it was the more artistic, intelligent approach that offered not only the starkest contrast, but the most exciting and original sounds of all.  Groups like De La Soul and digital underground paved many inroads of this "alternative" rap sound, yet there is no question that high atop the list of influential bands of this style stands the unrivaled trio, A Tribe Called Quest.  Ignoring the "macho" themes and sounds that were dominating hip-hop, A Tribe Called Quest quickly proved that there was a place for more serious matters within the genre, and their 1990 debut, People's Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm.  Fusing together brilliant rhymes with more subtle and deeper grooves, the unique genius that is A Tribe Called Quest was rarely better than what one can experience on their first single, 1990's, "Bonita Applebum."

At the time that "Bonita Applebum" was released, more aggressive, confrontational sounds were the "in" sound within hip-hop, and for a group to take such a blatant step in the other direction almost guaranteed them little commercial success.  However, within the first few moments of "Bonita Applebum," the groove establishes itself, and it becomes a song that is impossible to forget.  There is a smooth, yet upbeat nature to the music, and it is in this song that one can quickly understand and appreciate the "artsy" achievements that can be found within hip-hop music.  The two main samples being used are "Daylight" by RAMP and "Memory Band" by, Rotary Connection.  The way in which these two pieces are blended together to give the song its distinctive "knock" remains one of the greatest moments in hip-hop history, and even more than two decades after its first release, it is still just as captivating.  The music helps to solidify the mood and themes at play within the lyrics, as there is a sensual, almost intoxicating feeling throughout the musical arrangement, and at the time, such a sound was almost completely unheard of within hip-hop.  It is also this sound that links the band to the smooth soul movement of the 1970's, and the key to the success of the music is that it sounds so natural and unforced, and in many ways, the music could have easily stood on its own.

However, the presence and performance of the one and only Q-Tip is what truly pushes "Bonita Applebum" to legendary status, and his rhyming here remains some of the finest of his career.  Much in the same way that the music was a contrast, Q-Tip's more refined and relaxed sound manages to have more impact than his aggressive peers, and the visuals that he builds within his words would go on to inspire an entire generation of more poetic emcees.  It is the almost conversational style with which he delivers his rhymes that brought many new fans to the world of hip-hop, as he found a way to bring an almost jazz-style vocal to his songs, and this further highlighted the almost free-form nature of the groups' music.  Furthermore, Q-Tip rarely even comes close to any themes explored within a majority of hip-hop, and on "Bonita Applebum," he takes a unique look at the idea of lust, making it clear that he understands the difference between that and the cliché theme of love.  Managing to find a way to be explicit without cursing or being lewd, there is something far more alluring when Q-Tip rhymes, "...I'd like to kiss ya where some brothas won't, I'd like to tell ya things some brothas don't..."  Yet it is the songs' refrain that has become an iconic part of hip-hop history, and Q-Tip forever cemented his legacy with the simple line, "...Bonita Applebum, you gotta put me on..."

In the decades since "Bonita Applebum" was released, it has made appearances and been referenced to in a wide number of hip-hop classics.  From The Fugees re-sampling the sound to P.M. Dawn outright quoting the chorus (but changing the name) to Jay-Z taking a similar approach on his song, "I Know," it is clear that the song touched every corner of the hip-hop world, and remains just as fresh and relevant more than twenty years later.  This alone would be enough to prove just how influential a group lived within A Tribe Called Quest, but it is also the way in which so many emcees have taken Q-Tip's sound and style and made it their own that shows just how much of a shift the group was able to create.  Granted, the groups' other emcee, Phife, does not make an appearance on this track, but the impact of the song remains just as strong.  Furthermore, Q-Tip is also able to drop a bit of subtle social commentary, as he advocates for the use of "proper protection" when he rhymes, "...satisfaction, I have the right tactics, and if you need 'em, I got crazy prophylactics..."  It is this socially aware and responsible theme that would prove to be the final element in the "alternative" hip-hop scene, and even to this day, one can still clearly hear the impact of A Tribe Called Quest and their game changing musical approach.  Though it is difficult to find a "bad" song within their catalog, there is no question that the world of hip-hop was forever changed following the released of A Tribe Called Quest's monumental 1990 single, "Bonita Applebum."

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