“Phife and I were best friends growing up since we were four-years-old. We had the same musical taste and all of that. We both loved to rhyme. This was in 1980. I was a huge fan of the Treacherous 3. The Jungle Brothers and I all went to school together. Me, Ali [Shaheed Muhammad], Afrika and Mike G [attended] Mary Burcham High School in New York in Downtown Manhattan. We were all rhyming together in school. So Red Alert (legendary hip-hop radio DJ) had a hook-up with a small independent label and presented an opportunity for Jungle to record a single. We were all still in school when it came out. The JB’s put out ‘Jimbrowski’ and that took off for them.
I never recorded in a real professional studio early on. It was always a home vibe kind of thing. I was used to the start-up studios. When I did both ‘Black is Back’ and ‘The Promo’ with the Jungle Brothers there was this record out back in the days by a group called Bad Boys featuring K-Love. It was called ‘Inspector Gadget.’ They was the first crew that used that Inspector Gadget [riff] from the cartoon. And that was produced by Tony D, who owned a studio in Brooklyn in Coney Island where Jungle was recording. And that’s where I recorded ‘Black Is Black’ and ‘The Promo.’
I remember it was a 16-track studio. I already had my rhymes written in my little rhyme book. That was the thing back then…every MC had a rhyme book [laughs]. Making a first impression was an important thing for me. It was important for me to stake my claim. I wanted people to know who I was and the group I came from. I made sure that I put the Tribe name out there. Once I said it, that’s what it was: A Tribe Called Quest. Later on, I had a New Birth record that said the words Native Tongues on it. So I was just scratching the name and Afrika was like, ‘Yo, that’s what we should call ourselves! The Native Tongues!’
It was me, Ali, and the Jungle Brothers, who by then had already put out Straight Out The Jungle. And then we heard De La Soul’s ‘Plug Tunin’’ and like the rest of the world, we kind of stopped and said, ‘Who the fuck is this???’ Jungle had a show in 1988 in Boston and I didn’t go, but they were like, ‘We are going to do a show in Queens, New York around your way, Tip.’ And that’s when we first all got together…Tribe, Jungle and De La. This was July 4th 1988. On that day, they were telling us about a rapper from New Jersey named Queen Latifah and they were like, ‘Yeah, Latifah would be down, too. You got to hear her stuff.’ We met her after that, and Latifah was the next person to join the Native Tongues.”