“Bonita, bonita, bonita…”
With the utterance of an iconic, early 90’s hip-hop phrase, and reminiscent of one of hip- hop’s most beloved groups, “Bonita Applebum” shines forth as a classic example of everything that we fell in love with in hip-hop and representative of the legendary group that is A Tribe Called Quest.
The year was 1990.
Released as the second single off of ATCQ’s debut album People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, “Bonita Applebum” illustrates a lustful courtship told chiefly through Q-Tip’s refreshing narrative about a girl with, well- a rather sizable posterior.
When exploring the delicate intricacies of the track, most notably its brilliant sound arrangement, and inventive wordplay, a large part of ATCQ’s appeal is revealed: Though this song does not contain explicit lyrics, the thought is erotic.
A Tribe Called Quest formed in 1985 in New York, with Queens and Brooklyn natives Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad teaming up to bring a new flavor of jazz-infused hip-hop to the rap scene.
While their hip-hop contemporaries relied on conventional means of expression, either by cursing or being lewd, part of ATCQ’s lyrical allure was finding a way to be explicit, without the use of cliche lines or vulgar rhymes.
“I’d like to kiss ya where some brothas won’t,
I’d like to tell ya things some brothas don’t…”
With their distinctive play on imagination, they’re able to distinguish themselves beyond the realm of any category and truly captivate an audience who had never before heard of their sound. Q-tip displays his poetic prowl, professing:
“Hey Bonita, glad to meet ya/
For the kind of stunning newness, I must have foreseen ya”
With their unique wordplay and disabandonment of rules, ATCQ forever shifted the rap genre itself and the art of emceeing, comparing the female muse in “Bonita Applebum” to “a hip hop song, you know?”, coining the phrase and cementing their legacy with the simple line:
“Bonita Applebum, you gotta put me on“
Dressed minimally, the track is suited with a distinctive “knock”, paired with the helping of its two main samples, including “Daylight” by RAMP and “Memory Band” by Rotary Connection. A memorable moment in hip-hop history, it marked one of the very first times a custom beat was put on loop like that. Nostalgic, to say the least.
That pure, untampered, and original sound only A Tribe Called Quest could make you feel, both then and now. From being re-sampled by The Fugees to Jay-Z dropping Quest quotes on “I Know”, no corner of the hip-hop world was left untouched. Prolific, progressive, and pristine with their divine ability to convey a message, ATCQ first made their presence felt with “Bonita Applebum”, and has since built a sound catalogue heavy with hip-hop classics, garnering the attention of a legion of loyal listeners that first arrived with the classic chant:
“Hey, you’re like a hip hop song, you know?
Bonita Applebum, you gotta put me on
Bonita Applebum, I said, you gotta put me on
Bonita, Bonita, Bonita“
-Leslie Dizon (Aka Big L)
Bonita Applebum Video