The last time I came to Melbourne, almost four years ago now, I posted about a T-Pain song. Staying with the family in a dodgy serviced apartment well out of the city centre, I enjoyed my long weekend but don’t recall being particularly impressed. The T-Pain choice speaks to that. Music is such an intrinsic part of travel, of eating and of shopping that it’s hard to not have your ears open, forming an impression of whatever town you might be in as you wonder its streets. Needless to say, the city Sydney is forever compared to lived up to its challenger title this week as secret laneways, barber-shoemaker-restaurant hybrids, hole in the wall galleries and those typical trams came together to deliver a holistically hip vision of the city. Where T-Pain is synonymous with cheap production, quick turnover and superficial raps, ATCQ more accurately reflect the awesome time I had, exploring the side of the city you only ever see in ads and don’t believe exists in real life.
Thanks to scores of great suggestions from locals and travellers alike, Melbourne’s ‘cafe culture’ was readily accessible as we hopped from one capucinno to the next via carrot cake muffins and poached eggs. If anything, the last few days in the city have proved that despite the lasting label, the culture is far from stale. The diversity of coffee joints and quinoa peddlers is astounding. But as with labna (Arab yoghurt cheese – googled it) and smashed avocado and feta, there are some constants in the Melbourne cafe scene. Alongside exposed bulbs, pseudo-industrial decor and big brown chemists’ bottles for water, the soundtrack to breakfast and ‘blunch’ was taken every bit as seriously in each cafe we visited. Where cafe musak can often be just that, lazy Ministry of Sound or Buddha Bar mixes or default Norah Jones/Phoenix/La Roux, competition appears fierce among the cafes of Melbourne, so many and close between are they. When every joint is offering the ‘best latte in town’, the music that comes with it has as much to do with providing a winning experience as does the single origin fair trade blend in the cup.
I never really through of A Tribe Called Quest as a hip-hop group that might serve effectively as a lowest common denominator such that it might be implemented to season a braised lamb sandwich, add spice to an oolong tea. As much as 90s rap is a genre and era so hugely referenced in pop culture, clothing and the contemporary zeitgeist, you always get the feeling that the girl in the N.W.A. tee isn’t really sure who Eazy-E is, that the kid who claims ‘Illmatic’ is their favourite album of all time has only ever heard ‘The World Is Yours‘. If the girl and kid were patrons of cafes in Melbourne, a bit of that doubt might be dispelled. ATCQ seemed to be the go-to source for funky, edgy, vaguely unfamiliar hip-hop to percolate the room as the beans percolated. Listening to ‘Bonita Applebum’, that choice is easily justified. With its eastern sampling (later sampled again by The Fugees for their take on Roberta Flack’s ‘Killing Me Softly’), archetypal laid-back Quest groove and engrossing, fictional narrative, this, the group’s first single from their 1990 debut is made to complement the sound of milk frothers, cash registers and cutlery on crockery. A smooth beat for a smooth city.
A Tribe Called Quest – Bonita Applebum