Los Angeles Times

Comeback Quest

Good news, hip-hop fans: A Tribe Called Quest is back. For now.

The legendary trio--Phife, Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad--was a major force in the early '90s, introducing a seminal brand of socially conscious, jazz-inflected rap. The group's breakthrough second album, "The Low End Theory," is still regarded as one of hip-hop's best records 15 years after its 1991 release.

But A Tribe Called Quest hasn't released a full album of new material since 1998's "The Love Movement." And aside from a few shows a couple of years ago, we haven't heard much from them at all. (Q-Tip and Phife were busy with solo projects, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad pursued solo work and put in time with the now defunct R&B group Lucy Pearl.) The three have kept in touch over the years, but there's never been talk of a lasting reunion.

Now, a remix of their song "Lyrics to Go" appears on the NBA 2K7 video game, which also features Phife, Common and other hip-hop stars as characters, and A Tribe Called Quest is back on the road with the 2K Sports Bounce Tour.

Could this signal the start of the next phase for the group? Phife certainly hopes so, even though he's also working on a new solo album, "Songs in the Key of Phife, Vol. 1: Cheryl's Big Son," a tribute to his mother and Stevie Wonder.

Taking it easy in Atlanta before the tour, Phife talked to us about Tribe's uncertain future.

What made you want to reunite?

Me, personally, I'm hoping that we will receive love from the fans first of all. And once we receive the love, [I'm hoping] that everybody will put their heads together, come to their senses and do the damn thing. That's what I'm hoping for: a new album, everything. 'Cuz nothing's really written in stone right now. Everything is still up in the air despite going on the road in a few days.

If you put out a new album, what would it be called?

It should be called, "It's About Goddamn Time!" That's what it should be called. But I have no idea what it would be called. We basically title our albums depending on however the album goes. I'm not sure what it would be called though. "Three Wise Men"? Who knows.

How has hip-hop changed since "The Love Movement"?

It's totally changed. When we came out, there were so many people in the game but they had their own lane, so to speak. Like, De La [Soul] held down their position. Big Daddy Kane had his own lane. LL Cool J had his own lane. Biz Markie had his own lane. Ultramagnetic [MC's] same thing. KRS-One, Boogie Down Productions, same thing. Now, everyone's kind of on top of each other doing the same thing. You know what I'm saying?

Not exactly. What do you mean?

Bitin'! Nobody's being creative. Everybody's bitin' off each other pretty much. "Oh, he sold 10 million with that style? OK, I'm going to at least try to sell seven million with that same style."

How do you want to be remembered?

That's a good question. I guess what I don't want to be remembered by is [if] we came out with another album and we took too long and it was whack. I just want to be remembered for just putting out good music. Changing people's lives and always lending an ear to those less fortunate or lending a hand to those less fortunate ...

How do your skills on the court compare to those of your character in NBA 2K7?

I used to have a little bit of game … but I don't play on a consistent basis anymore. So I'm kind of out of shape or whatever. I still have a deadly jump shot, though. Don't get it twisted.

Matt Pais is the metromix music and movies producer. mpais@tribune.com

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