This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #235: Can I Kick It? by A Tribe Called Quest.
I find the whole subject of Hip-Hop as a cultural touchstone to be a fascinating one to consider. As mentioned in previous posts, the origins of Hip Hop sprang from the desire of people of colour to see themselves and their lives reflected in the music they listened to. Hip-Hop is a culture. Rapping is the singing over beats played by a DJ. In the early days of Hip Hop, pioneers such as Afrika Bambaataa helped create a Hip-Hop culture that centred around inclusivity of musical and artistic expression, as well as, positivity when it came to celebrating Black culture and Black achievement and history. Along the way, the cultural mirror that was Hip-Hop transformed into the promotion of stereotypes such as the “Thug Life”. “Pimps and playas” became the main figureheads played by black males, with “b*tches and h*es” being the submissive, objectified roles donned by women. It was at this stage of Hip-Hop’s history that many people turned away from the genre. I had always had an affinity for rapping because I like the cadence of Slam poetry, from which, rapping is an offshoot. But, truth be told, I couldn’t tolerate how the music industry was opting to portray Black culture. Somehow, those in the Hip-Hop genre had to bring their music back to its roots of positivity and inclusivity.
One group that had success with projecting a positive image and singing of hopeful things was Arrested Development (who were profiled in an earlier post about their song, “Tennessee“.) Another group that made quite a name for themselves by ignoring the “Thug Life” trappings was A Tribe Called Quest. Their music often drew upon Jazz for its rhythm and pacing. As such, their music tends to have a cool or chill vibe about it.
The song, “Can I kick it?” comes form their debut album and refers to hanging out with friends, being part of a social community, of belonging. When “Can I Kick It?” was released, the folks in A Tribe Called Quest were the same age as The Beatles members were when they released “She loves Me” and “Love Me Do”. The lyrics are sung by two rappers named “Phife Dawg” and “Q-Tip”. The whole video for this song shows guys that are almost nerdy and acting goofy. But, make no mistake, “Can I Kick It?” was a classy, breath of fresh air that blew across the Hip Hop landscape when it came out in the 1990s. Far removed from the Tupacs and Biggie Smalls of the world, A Tribe Called Quest rocked it old school; bringing a sense of respect for history and for Black culture back into the genre of Hip Hop.
As a band, A Tribe Called Quest released many albums like “The Low End Theory”, that music critics and fans, alike, hail as being culturally-significant. Their lyrics are universally regarded as being among the most intelligent and socially thought-provoking in all of Hip-Hop’s grand history. Much like how The Beatles went from the simple songs that marked their early career to much more innovative and creative songs toward the end, A Tribe Called Quest carved a similar path for themselves as their career evolved, as well. That they are not as well known as many of their white peers has little to do with musical skill levels. A Tribe Called Quest is, quite simply, one of the best Hip Hop groups of all-time and, definitely, one of the most musically and lyrically talented groups of any genre.
One final note before this post concludes…..Hip Hop is a musical style that often relies on sampling which is, as we know, the inclusion in a song of bits of sounds, lyrics, beats from other artists. Well, sampling played a big role in “Can I Kick It?” and served as a valuable lesson for “A Tribe Called Quest” moving forward. When you play this video, you will be greeted with the familiar opening notes of “Walk on the Wild Side” by none other than, Mr. Lou Reed. That he agreed to lend this sample to such a young group says a lot about how well respected A Tribe Called Quest were right off of the bat. The band has New York area roots, as does Lou Reed so, for their debut song, A Tribe Called Quest wanted to pay homage to someone who was a big influence on their own development so, they built “Can I Kick It?” around Lou Reed’s beat. In return, Reed asked to be paid a percentage of all royalties the song ever made. The band didn’t have much leverage so they agreed. As it turns out, the cost of having to pay Lou Reed for the use of his sample, in perpetuity, has meant that A Tribe Called Quest has never seen a dime of profit from this song, even though it was a big hit for them and helped establish the group as a musical force to be reckoned with.
Luckily, it costs you nothing to give this video a click and the song a listen. Like I said earlier in the post, in the video, the fellows seem so clean cut as to be almost nerdy. “Can I Kick It?” has an amazing musical structure to it and is a joy to listen to. I hope that you like it, too. If this is your introduction to A Tribe Called Quest then, by all means, check out more of their work on YouTube or, better yet, buy a ticket to a show, download a song or buy some merchandise. so that the money goes straight to the band, itself. Regardless of what route you take to find their work, I am sure you will find something to groove by in their musical catalogue.
For now, here is “A Tribe Called Quest” with “Can I Kick It?”. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “Can I Kick It?” by A Tribe Called Quest, can be found here.
The link to the official website for A Tribe Called Quest, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Rolling Sone Magazine, can be found here.