In honor of Tribe dropping their final album recently, I decided it was time to break down one of their classic tracks. Anyone familiar with A Tribe Called Quest would have a hard time explaining themselves if they had never heard Can I Kick It? In fact, the majority of people I know that aren’t familiar with Tribe tend to recognize this song before many others in their discography. Something that many are unaware of regarding this song is that A Tribe Called Quest, to this day, never made a cent off its sales.
Despite the song’s reputation as the signature track from Tribe’s debut album, all the money went to a man named Lou Reed. Since the beginning, Hip Hop used sampling to build off older sounds and add new twists to genres from entirely different eras. Can I Kick It? features samples from jazz artist Dr. Lonnie Smith, slide guitar from Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, and, of course, Lou Reed’s classic called Walk On the Wild Side. Lou Reed’s song added an element to Can I Kick It? that Tribe felt made the song great. So, to avoid any complications, A Tribe Called Quest agreed to give Lou Reed all the money the song grossed to keep their artistic vision intact. The late Phife Dawg, once expressed how the entire song could have easily been scrapped altogether and was grateful for its completion. Can I Kick It? opened a lot of doors for A Tribe Called Quest, paving the way for their rise to fame as a pivotal track from their debut effort.
The song mainly features verses from Phife Dawg himself as well as Q-Tip, Tribe’s most prominent members. Q-Tip handles the first verse,
Can I kick it? To all the people who can Quest like A Tribe does
Before this, did you really know what live was?
Comprehend to the track, for it’s why cuz
Gettin measures on the tip of the vibers
Rock and roll to the beat of the funk fuzz
Wipe your feet really good on the rhythm rug
If you feel the urge to freak, do the jitterbug
Come and spread your arms if you really need a hug
Afrocentric living is a big shrug
A life filled with fun that’s what I love
A lower plateau is what we’re above
If you diss us, we won’t even think of
Will Nipper the doggy give a big shove?
This rhythm really fits like a snug glove
Like a box of positives it’s a plus, love
As the Tribe flies high like a dove
(Can I kick it?)
One of my favorite lyrical devices used by emcees is the double entendre, which, refers to a word or phrase that is open to two distinct interpretations. In any case, Q-Tip rolls out an impressive line towards the beginning of the verse: “Gettin measures on the tip of the vibers”. In a way, one could call this a double-double entendre, given that both the words measure and tip have intended double meanings. Measure, in the line, refers to the act of measuring something or evaluating its size or quality as well as an actual music measure on sheet music that denotes a segment of time corresponding to a specific number of beats. The word tip, not only refers to Q-Tip himself, but also a piece of advice or guidance and the top of something. So Q-Tip says “Gettin measures on the tip of the vibers,” he means two different things. The first is that he, Tip, is getting recognition from people at the top of the game. The second is that he can write measures of music because he knows what the people want. Basically, the vibers give Q-Tip an idea of what they want to hear, so he writes music for them.
The majority of the verse is Q-Tip answering whether or not he can kick it and merely expressing that the Tribe is here to stay and a talented group of budding emcees. Many listeners also fail to understand the reference behind Q-Tip’s shout out to Nipper the doggy towards the end. To many, this may seem like nonsense, but it refers to an actual dog, named Nipper. This dog became relatively famous after a photo of him looking at a phonograph in confusion was painted onto canvas. This painting and Nipper’s intrigued expression became the inspiration for the logos of several recording companies including RCA, Electrola, EMI, and the Gramophone Company.
Anyone enjoying A Tribe Called Quest’s new album should go back and check out their older work to see how far they’ve come as artists since their 1990 debut. Give Can I Kick It? a listen and see what you can notice in verse 2!