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What's that sound? The Frogs in A Tribe Called Quest's 'After Hours'

A Tribe Called Quest’s seminal debut album People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm paved the way for an incredible amount of hip-hop artists to emerge and develop the genre into the powerhouse it is today.  The ubiquitous form hip-hop currently finds itself in can be attributed to Quest’s 1990 debut. It broadened the genre’s horizons, showing that rap did not have to be confined to a set constitution. 

The album was also groundbreaking in how it acted as a foil to a lot of the ‘“tough guy” rap that was being released at the time. N.W.A., LL Cool J, and Public Enemy all espoused this image, but A Tribe Called Quest did not.

Legendary Quest member, Ali Shaheed Muhammad remembered: “People’s Instinctive Travels wasn’t any of that. We weren’t trying to be tough guys. It was about having fun, being lighthearted, being witty, being poetic. Just being good with one another. That’s what we presented. Just be. Just exist. Be comfortable in your own skin. People’s Instinctive Travels was about celebrating you, whoever you are.”

This ethos, along with peers De La Soul, Jungle Brothers and Queen Latifah, endeared this new, expansive form of rap to listeners everywhere. Production-wise, the album was groundbreaking, its use of sampling, scratching, mixing, and programming reflected this new form of progressive rap. The album mixed psychedelia, jazz and rock into the music, giving it the fun, lighthearted feel that Muhammad describes. No wonder the album was a hit upon release, it was a breath of fresh air, and nothing had ever been done like it before.

The album spawned classics such as ‘Bonita Applebum’, ‘Can I Kick It?’ and ‘I Left My Wallet in El Segundo’. Without the album, there would be no Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Outkast, Erykah Badu or Pharrell Williams. Encapsulating the transformative effect the album had, hip-hop titan Pharrell Williams stated: “I listened to ‘Bonita’ every day. I’d never heard anything like that in my life. That’s where I changed”, ” it caused a turning point in my life, which made me see that music was art.”

Whilst it would be easy to look to the three singles from People’s Instinctive Travels as examples of the pioneering musicianship, track three on the album, ‘After Hours’, humorously does the trick. Typical of A Tribe Called Quest, at 3:13, the track samples the sound of frogs croaking.  

Not only is ‘After Hours’ classic Quest, laid back in its groove, featuring Q-Tip’s whimsical yet realistic lyrics, but this wacky yet innovative sample also matches the organic nature of the band. The sidewalk where lyricist Q-Tip created this tale is also reimagined, “I hear the frogs, and the smashing of bottles/ A car revs up, and I hear it throttle.”

‘After Hours’ is vivid poetry about the relaxed summer nights in cities, where anything seems possible. By invoking frogs, Q-Tip paints a jungle-esque, harmonious picture of New York sidewalks, where nature and humanity coexist: “So hear the frogs dancing in the streets/ Once again Ali will bring up the beat/ Like this.”

This hilarious image of frogs dancing in the street to Ali’s breakbeat encapsulates what A Tribe Called Quest are all about. Psychedelic and jazzy, yet relaxed in their composition. You can see where the more imaginative storytellers of rap get their influence — Kendrick or Outkast’s back catalogue springs to mind.