A Tribe Called Quest formed in Queens, New York in 1985. After establishing a friendship with hip-hop act Jungle Brothers, both groups formed a collective dubbed Native Tongues, which also included De La Soul.
Several years prior to recording People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, group member Q-Tip created much of the album's production on pause tapes when he was in the 10th grade. He would have his first studio experience while recording with Jungle Brothers on their debut album Straight out the Jungle (1988). Although this was a learning experience, he acquired more recording and producing knowledge being present at all of De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising (1989) sessions. Recording engineer Shane Faber taught Q-Tip how to use equipment such as the E-mu SP-1200 and Akai S950 samplers, and soon-after, renowned producer Large Professor taught him how to use other equipment, for which he would expand upon on People’s Instinctive Travels.
Initially, record labels wouldn't sign A Tribe Called Quest due to their unconventional image and sound, but took interest after the success of 3 Feet High and Rising, which featured appearances from Q-Tip. The group hired Kool DJ Red Alert as their manager, and after shopping their demo to several major labels, they signed a contract with Jive Records in 1989.