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Mace & Crown | April 30, 2017

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A Tribe Called Quest’s Final Record Proves They Still Got It

A Tribe Called Quest’s Final Record Proves They Still Got It
Shannon Jay
Staff Writer

Whether it’s the country’s institutionalization driven by drugs, poor political representation or the present generation finding their worth, A Tribe Called Quest’s long-awaited and final record, “We got it from here… Thank you 4 your service,” beautifully but blatantly points out societal flaws to unify the people. There’s a lot of complex consciousness blending the past, present and future echoed throughout beats, metaphors and star-studded appearances. The record honored a fallen five-footer brother, and deciphered that not every brother is a brother… but they don’t know.

Jarobi White, left, and Q-Tip at Q-Tip’s home recording studio in New Jersey. Credit Chad Batka for The New York Times.

Jarobi White, left, and Q-Tip at Q-Tip’s home recording studio in New Jersey. Credit Chad Batka for The New York Times.

Timeless and timely, the band’s first record in 18 years was released right after the election. “We the People…” already instills Trump’s separatist immigration policies, and Tribe combats this by finding common ground in the food we eat when we’re hungry. Referenced is a meal college kids know all too well – ramen noodles. A food everyone can afford, the microwavable snack is used as a level playing field, showing we’re more alike than different, and mostly broke.

While “The Space Program” alludes to a surely female president, “Melatonin” copes with a lack of surprise in the rise of Trump. Although cut before election day, Q-Tip practically responds to Barack Obama’s day-after speech with the line “The sun is up, but I feel down again.”

This track suggests racist acts always done in the dark are simply now coming out. This sentiment is echoed in “The Killing Season,” which uses metaphors of war to describe injustice at the hands of the police: “These fruitful trees are rooted in bloody soil and torment / Things haven’t really changed / Or they’re dormant for the moment.” The record’s release on Veteran’s Day and reference to an associated phrase in the title makes this comparison especially potent.

Despite predictable presidential results, this reality still ensues restlessness. This lack of sleep is explained in “Kids…” where worries for the future generations are that both normal, safe success and famous, flashy rapdom are unattainable fantasies for black youth. In contrast, “Movin Backwards” shows motivation from the youngsters, bringing contemporary artist Anderson Paak. on to propose propelling onward in the face of hopelessness.

Contrasting top-ranking rap albums from this year such as Young Thug and Travis Scott, Tribe brings the philosophy lost in trap music, putting the rhythm and poetry back in rap. Jarobi has something to say to the “trap lords with the fetty” in “Movin Backwards,” begging rappers not to bring back stereotyped shallowness Tribe’s thoughtful lyrics hoped to put a dent in.

These artists have digressed from the hip hop that reminded Q-Tip’s dad of bebop in “Excursions,” but Tribe brought in youngins who embrace jazz on their records, like Anderson Paak. and Kendrick Lamar, maintaining philosophical flow for the future. “We got it from here…” maintains a classic sound through Q-Tip’s multi-instrumentalism and scratches by George “DJ Scratch” Spivey. Production and subject matter are relevant and fresh without ever feeling contrived, and is always very Tribe.

Jarobi White stayed in the background the few early years he was with ATCQ, leaving and his vocals cut before “Low End Theory” dropped. For the first and last time, White lends his verses and voice to several tracks.

Also coming together after nearly 20 years of disagreements are Q-Tip and Phife Dawg. Childhood friends separated by solo ventures, Phife’s abrasive tone is like the crunchy toast Q-Tip’s buttery vocals are spread upon. Phife was always Q-Tip’s biggest critic, and the Abstract alludes to this in the song dedicated to the five-foot assassin, “Lost Somebody”: “Despite all the spats and shits and immaculately documented / The one thing I appreciate, you and I, we never pretended.” The track leaves a small space of silence toward the end, interbedded with sharp guitar riffs that echo in Phife’s absence.

Aristos Marcopoulos/PRNewsFoto/Legacy Recordings via AP Images

Original members Jarobi White, Mr. Muhammad, Q-Tip and Phife Dawg. Aristos Marcopoulos/PRNewsFoto/Legacy Recordings via AP Images

Along with all the fabulous founding members, Tribe brings in talented and famous names to help continue divulging their low-end theory. Classic associates Busta Rhymes, Andre 3000 and Q-Tip’s cousin Consequence lend verses while left-field features like Jack White and Elton John provide funky instrumentals. Subdued appearances never overshadow Tribe, serving as savory sprinkles atop a soulful sundae.

In “Conrad Tokyo,” Phife post-humorously alludes to the band’s now legendary SNL performance. A day after the record release and the weekend after the election, their appearance with fellow black Muslim Dave Chappelle on SNL was the perfect punctuation to a painful week and a wonderful “F-U” to the president-elect. Chappelle’s graciousness toward Trump and Tribe’s reclamation of his hateful rhetoric shows the greatness of America and the talent we stand to miss out on if Trump successfully closes the minds ATCQ has spent over 20 years opening.