1991’s “Check The Rhime” didn’t introduce a new A Tribe Called Quest so much as it introduced a refined A Tribe Called Quest that distinctly separated itself as a separate entity from the rest of the Native Tongues collective. The song’s sensibility–Tip and Phife’s approximation of an old-school routine, the neck-cracking boom-bap, the jazzy sensibility (pilfered mostly from a Minnie Riperton song), Phife’s major advancement as a lyricist–these dudes were not in El Segundo anymore.
“Check The Rhime” is also one of the few songs I can clearly remember hearing for the first time. New Yorkers of a certain age are very familiar with Video Music Box–the public access show that became the first major outlet for underground hip-hop videos, which at the time was really anything that wasn’t MC Hammer or Vanilla Ice. The “Check The Rhime” video premiered on a fall 1991 day. I’d just gotten back from school, flipped the TV on, and remember being slightly disappointment because the group’s look (and video aesthetic) seemed a lot more in line with “traditional” hip-hop than it did during their first album’s campaign. But the music itself was undeniable. “Check The Rhime” is catchy (without having an actual hook), there are a bunch of quotable lyrics (including Tip’s infamous “industry rule number 4080…record company people are shady”), and it disses Hammer.