Reflections on People’s Instinctive Travels and the Path of Rhythm


It’s April 1990. By month’s end the Hubble Space Telescope will be in orbit, 126 people will die in an earthquake in China, and wrecking cranes will begin disassembling the Berlin Wall.

In the world of hip-hop,  Ice Cube has departed from the seminal group N.W.A. and will release his critically acclaimed debut Amerikkka’s Most Wanted. Public Enemy released Fear of a Black Planet, which will hit Billboard’s charts at Number 10. Gang Starr will release Step Into the Arena, which is regarded by some to be greatest rap album of all time. Rap has long since proven that it’s not a fad. Increasingly, it’s tone and lyrics have turned to social injustice both in the inner cities and abroad. Artists genuinely carry the burden of their roots, but they also trade on it as they project an image that will frequently be adopted in the suburbs. It is into this environment that an especially colorful and experimental album will enter and turn the world on it’s head.

I can recall clearly my first interaction with A Tribe Called Quest’s music. I was watching BET’s Rap City, hosted by “Mayor” Chris Thomas. At the time, MTV’s Yo MTV Raps and Rap City were the principle outlets for new music and video content when you were a kid living in the suburbs of Orlando. The video starts out with a series of stick figures introducing the group’s logo. We then hear a some flamenco guitar as the camera races towards a little person wearing a sombrero in the middle of the road. An infectious beat kicks in. We then see those same figures dancing in interesting and colorful ways that are seriously reminiscent of a Keith Haring’s work. The video gets progressively stranger as the hook comes in an infects your brain. We then cut to a tight shot of the group’s leader, Q-Tip who is reporting to a group of officers that he has lost his wallet.

While it’s easy to describe the video, what’s sincerely challenging to communicate is exactly how different this was from nearly anything else we had seen to date. This predates the Internet. Unless you read rap magazines or could see these artists live, you had no idea what hip-hop fashion was at the time. Only the sonic boom level movements really had the energy to exceed the borders of New York and make it across the country. Many were still reeling from the release of what would become Public Enemy’s most famous song “Fight The Power”. It was just becoming the anthem that it’s still known as today.

A Tribe Called Quest debuted with an album full of lyrical whimsy and masterful production. Taken at it’s release, it received a tepid critical response as being “too loose”, “too whimsical” or too “danceable”. It turned out to be exactly what the people of the time needed and wanted. There was some sense of optimism in the air and it was time to take a step back and actually enjoy the lives we were living with out the monkey of the Cold War on our backs.

As a huge fan of this group and album every track on the album is important to me. Just yesterday, the 25th Anniversary remaster was released which featured some new remixes and a big boost in acoustic quality. Since I can’t just mention one song, I’m going to quickly work through the track listing and offer a couple of observations from each.

“Push It Along” – THAT BABY CRYING! I was really confused when I originally got this album. I just didn’t understand what was going on. When beat drops, there’s a super short stab from the guitar and then we realize our lives have just changed for the better.

“Luck of Lucien” – Being a music industry novice at the time, I was certain that the opening performance of “La Marseillaise” was from the opening of The Beatle’s “All You Need is Love”. Knowing a bit more about the business now, I’m certain it’s not, but I did feel that despite the subject of the song, there was some philosophical alignment with The Beatles. Didn’t hurt my early impressions of Tribe at all. “Lucien You Eat Snails?”

“After Hours” – Such a great jam. I have great memories of those frogs at the end of the song.  No rap album I’d ever heard had dared to risk street cred to put frogs into their song. Also: THAT BEAT!

“Footprints” – Again another incredible beat! “This ain’t rock-n-roll cause the rap is in control!” In the re-issue, Cee Lo Green tackles this song and finds a much more jazzy approach that carries a lounge feel. In the last minute or so, Green drops his own inspirational verse. I liked, but did not love the remix.

“I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” – Already covered this one. I will add that I had a copy of the cassette single promo of this song, which included a velcro wallet. No joke. Don’t know what happened to it. I’ve never seen another.

“Pubic Enemy” – In addition to featuring DJ Red Alert, it’s a rap song about VD! Both educational and hilarious!

“Bonita Applebaum” – For some reason, it took me a while to warm to this song, even though it’s partially responsible for this album’s enduring success. Love it now. I hear it completely differently now. Pharrell Williams find a new level of funk in his re-issue remix breathing new life into this classic track.

“Can I Kick It?” – This is the most remembered song from Tribe. The Lou Reed sample is a naturally familiar and tonally appropriate addition to this hit. When I listen to it, I cannot shake the amazing sound of the snare drum. Next time you listen, hear how that crack makes it’s way through the rest of what ends as a sonically dense and very danceable jam. J. Cole yanked the memorable hook from this song to generate an ethereal atmosphere in his re-issue remix.

“Youthful Expressions” – The baseline is just so damned groovy.

“Rhythm (Devoted to the Art of Moving Butts)” – This song starts out with an “It’s a new decade!” They couldn’t be more right. “I got the rhythm, you got the rhythm” comes through in whispers. The beat/bass combination in this song is one of the top three on the album.

“Mr. Muhammed” – Opening with an awesome sample from Earth Wind and Fire’s Brazilian Rhyme (Beijo Interlude) this song really starts to show the group’s creative application of samples. “Can I get whatever from Mister Muhammed?”

Ham ‘N’ Eggs – Perhaps the heights of whimsy. Outside of the Sugar Hill Gang, who has rhymes about their diet? The Tribe eats the occasional steak? Who are these guys???

“Go Ahead In the Rain” –  There’s stylistic, but distinct homage paid to De La Soul, not in word, but in the meter of the lyrics:

“Can’t we make you see
I mean, the fact that is the key, I mean
Devoted to the art of movin butts, so get on up and…
Think about what’s yours”

“Description of a Fool” – I love the beat on this song, but to be honest, it’s my least favorite in an album of favorites.

History went on to show ATCQ’s long lasting influence on hip-hop and pop music. I have to say that I’m seriously looking for and forward to additional re-issues from the group. Whether that comes to pass, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Path of Rhythm is one of my favorite albums of all time and it’s nice to be reunited with an old friend.

宮本 武蔵

800px-Musashi_ts_picSome of my favorite quotes come from Miyamoto Musashi. For those who don’t recognize the Kanji in the subject line, that’s his name. I thought it would be good to gather a couple of them together in one place.

Musashi, for those who are not familiar, was a legendary swordsman. Some say he was the greatest swordsman who ever lived. He was undefeated in some 60 duels and exposed the importance of the use of the pen being of just as paramount import as the use of the sword.

Here are my favorite Musashi quotes and what they mean to me.

“there is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.” 

I really love this quote. It reminds you that however you are today, in whatever format, you are indeed enough and embracing that fact is the path towards success. We are constantly bombarded by the projection of products and opinions that say we do not look handsome enough. Our clothing is not enough. Our education is not enough. Musashi famously declared that he never had a teacher and that he was a self made man in all things. Once we stop wishing we were something else, and realize that we are already all we need, great things will begin.

“Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men.”

This is my favorite quote of all time. Each day that I work out or start a new task, I will repeat this. I tend to focus on the front half of the quote because I apply it directly to myself. I am competing against myself in all things. This quote reminds me that each day I can be 1% better than the day before. Most people will not make this effort because they do not see the reason to try for such a small improvement. The truth is that all real improvement shows up so incrementally as to not be noticed for quite some time.

Each day, 1% in the right direction. That doesn’t seem impossible at all, does it?

“I must say, to die with one’s sword still sheathed is most regrettable.”

I mentioned that Musashi was undefeated in 60 duels. Could you imagine fighting with your life on the line 60 times and coming out ahead each and every one? Musashi was exceptional in a way that few of us are. Even still, he put himself in a position to constantly test his skills and his faith in those abilities. How many of us take the easiest path to avoid having to really stress our skills? How many of us phone in a work out, or just really fail to give our all to a task? We’ve all done it. Each time that happens, you’re going into a duel against ourselves with our swords in the sheath. Fully prepare yourself for battle, especially against yourself.

Pudding – The Musical

Tonight I performed my very first **legit** improv show.


Yes, I’ve been in several class graduation shows as well as late night Jams, but this was the first time I was invited to perform at an event as part of a team. It was a Monday night, the audience knew what they were getting into…or did they?

The Setup
I’m currently enrolled in a Singing Improv class taught by the talented Angela Perez. At one point last week she mentions that “We Have a GIG!” (Habemus Gigus in Latin) We are to make our call time of 9:45 on Monday and we will only be able to “sing” (yes, musical improv) precisely one word each. We dub our team “Zombie Shovels” after one of our scenes in class. We practice the format and we feel pretty comfortable that whatever happens, it will be just fine.

The Day Of Show
On the Day of show, my mind is racing a bit. Like every performer, I really wanted to do my best as part of the team. I also want to be entertaining since people are actually paying for this show. I remind myself that I’ve performed on this stage (StageWerks on Valencia) at least 7 or 8 times. I’m comfortable with the venue. We will be great!

The Pre Show
As we arrive, our instructor lets us know of a change. This show is called “Mono Mania: A Word”.  We later learn that this word is going to be the same word for the entire hour of the show. That’s right, instead of singing “one word each”, we will instead be singing “the same word”. All of us – for 10 minutes. God help those who paid $5 to see this. I hope it wasn’t their first improv show. Life changing, but in which way?

I can already tell that the Pre-Show means very different things to different people. I think the largest gap comes from the experienced folks to the newbies. Experienced folks are really able to get “game ready” in no time. They are old hands at this! Whereas I find myself thinking a lot and wondering what it’s going to be like on stage. I should clarify that I do not get stage fright. In fact, when I hit the stage, everything seems to drop away. I’m laser focused and just trying to do a good job playing with the other performers.

We wander around backstage and in the green room listening to the Openers begin their set. The “Voice of God” or Producer of the show asks for a one word suggestion. After some shouting, Voice of God selects “Pudding”, And the show begins.

To make sure I’m getting this clearly across…Imagine if you watched a group of people who just said the word “pudding” as the only word they could speak. Communication comes from body language, inflection and tone, emotion. You can still do quite a bit with this constraint and it just goes to show that the funny finds you if you trust yourself, your team and just have fun.

The openers go nuts. The laughs are slow, but they hit their pace and the audience really starts to get on board with this craziness. Time flies. Before we know it, it’s time to go on.

We’ve been coached to come out on stage, wait for the Voice of God to ask the audience for a non geographic location where people assemble. Someone yells “France!” Another yells “A MALL!” Voice of God decides and we begin.

We immediately break into a scene at a Mall where the only word we can sing is “pudding“.


The show was great. We explored the space. We played downstage. We checked in with each other and created two songs that were pretty awesome considering the constraint. We all had fun and we were left to our own thoughts as we watched the next set wrestle with the one word constraint to great effect!

Musical improv is a bit different that “normal” spoken improv. Yes, yes, the singing….but it’s not just that. The structure of the performance is quite different as I’m learning. There are a couple of scene types that I’ve experienced thus far. Keep in mind, I’m new to improv in general and very new to musical improv.

Scene Type 1: Sonic montage
Ok, I may have invented that term. Probably not…who knows? Essentially, a “Sonic Montage” begins when a player steps into the scene, begins doing Space Object Work that helps to set up the location the scene takes place. One or more of the players begins adding to the scene sonically, by which I mean sings a word or phrase – or perhaps contributes a sound.

Should one of the players feel inspired, they might step forward and take a solo, where they improvise lyrics based upon the scene and their space object work thus far. The other players reduce volume to give them the focus. When the player completes their solo, the volume raises again and the “Sonic Montage” continues. Players are free to move and support each other. They can even change their word/sounds around. Eventually, all of the players work to find an ending that is replete with all the normal flourish of a Broadway show (hopefully!).

Scene Type 2: A Scene with Singing
Admittedly a less original name than “Sonic Montage”, but just as much fun to play. This type of scene opens normally with players speaking if they choose. They establish their relationship, where they are, etc, just like a regular improv scene. It’s just as full of traps as any other scene, except in this case, you’re going to be singing those traps. I give FULL credit to Brian James O’Connell for opening my eyes to the fact that there are NO mistakes in improv, there are only traps. It’s very liberating to realize that all new improvisers fall into traps and that learning about them is the way to avoid future pitfalls.

As the scene progresses, one of the players will ultimately drive to song. Usually a natural extension of the scene, the soloist turns to the audience and the other player takes a soft pause as if the are frozen in time while the singer improvises.

The structure of these improvisations can be mashed up just as frequently as any other improv type, but a basic format is Chorus-Verse-Chorus whereby a player establishes the basis of their Point of View while expanding their thoughts into the scene. The Verse may be 2-4-6-8 lines or as many as appropriate. The player then returns to the Chorus and resumes the scene.

From there, it can go right back to speaking, which is awesome from a composition standpoint. I’m really loving the contrast of speaking and singing within the very same scene. It does wonders to the mind!

I’ve also learned a couple of sneaky tips in the short time since I started practicing improvised singing. First, if you hold a note, you appear to be embellishing an emotion, which you can do nearly effortlessly. I find that I’m determining my next line in this time and I do not fall into the trap of “Invention” where a spoken improviser may stammer or break her cadence making it obvious that the brain is working very hard on the next line. – Fun Times.

Can’t wait to see where this all goes!

Who am I today?

I’ve been thinking about getting the blog moving again recently. I’ve had quite a big stir in my life the last couple of years and it’s a good idea to get some thoughts out. This blog will capture book reviews, random acts of creativity, rants and any other share worthy posts that come to my mind. It is guaranteed to be random.

So who am I today?

I’m  a parent of two amazing kids who are without their father for quite a long amount of time. I miss them dearly.

I’m a bi-coastal entrepreneur who has recently taken up the hobbies of improvisation and podcasting. I presently take courses and perform as part of Endgames while in SF. I’m also the host or co-host of three podcasts, which I’m realizing is fantastic fun and a great way to get some creative ideas out into the ether.

I’m a perpetual volunteer with various non profit groups. I love to give back whenever I can.

I’m stronger today than I was yesterday. I’m moving in the right direction.