A Tribe Called Quest are celebrating the 25th anniversary of their pioneering debut album People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm with an extensive reissue campaign. After a live reunion performance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and a new remix by J. Cole, the track funnelling most of the nostalgia is "Can I Kick It?"
And rightfully so. It was the first single that truly showed the group's flavour, refashioning the iconic bassline of Lou Reed's "Walk On The Wild Side" from its tale of transsexuality and sex work into one of the most immortal feel-good call-and-response hooks in hip-hop history.
And it turns out they have zero dollars to show for it. In a new interview with Rolling Stone Phife Dawg says Lou Reed claimed 100% of both the royalties and publishing, "and to this day we haven't seen a dime from that song."
"I remember with [record label] Jive, there was a problem with the sample being cleared," Phife recalls. "I don't think they cleared the sample, and instead of Lou Reed saying, 'You can't use it,' he said, 'Y'all can use it, but I get all the money from that.'"
That might explain why J. Cole's "Can I Kick It?" remix strips out the sample altogether, refurbishing the song with soulful production that no longer walks on the wild side (but is still, somewhat surprisingly, excellent).
But though A Tribe Called Quest never made any money off the song, they don't begrudge Lou Reed. "It's his art; it's his work, Phife continues in his interview with Rolling Stone. "He could have easily said no. There could have easily been no 'Can I Kick It?' So you take the good with the bad. And the good is, we didn't get sued. We just didn’t get nothing from it."