I've always thought A Tribe Called Quest were OK, but I never rode hard for them. When the six or so people at my high school who listened to rap they couldn't hear on the radio were passing around The Low End Theory, I thought it was weak compared to the blare of Fear of a Black Planet and too smooth compared to Check Your Head. I also thought Tribe came off kinda smug and superior--an attitude that seemed to infect their more dedicated fans, like dudes thought they were somehow better people just because they listened to a particular group. That turned me off more than anything.
Those who still hold to the Tribe-is-superior worldview might be a little hurt by "Georgie Porgie," a never-released song of theirs that's been floating around the Internet. It's an early version of the Low End Theory track "Show Business," but where the final product was a rant against the music industry, in its original form the target was gay men. Hip-hop's got a long, unfortunate history of homophobia, but "Georgie Porgie" is easily the single most homophobic rap song I've ever heard, a hateful caricature of a cross-dressing, AIDS-infected, effeminate Everyfag that comes from a deeper level of ignorance than even Cam'ron is capable of, and which--so the story goes--their record label was so offended by that it made Tribe redo the track.
A representative lyric, courtesy of Q-Tip: "Call me homophobic / But I know it and you know it / You're filthy and funny to the utmost exponent."
That's not so much "conscious rapping" as it is "borderline hate speech." Fuck that, and fuck getting a couple decades of goodwill off your supposed intelligence and tolerance when it was only some suit up in corporate who kept you from being exposed as ignorant, hateful bigots.
(Via all over the place, but I saw it first at byroncrawford.com)