A Tribe Called Quest

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Adam Perry

Quaker Quill

Nov 2016

A Tribe Called Quest:

2016 Album Review

 

After an 18 year hiatus, hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest has reunited for a swan song, a final gift to their genre, and an ultimate memorial to their world’s collapse, all culminated into their new album, “We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service,” a record which ventures from reality, to the abstract, and beyond.

But first, let’s take it back to the time period in which the group emerged: 1991. Jonathan Davis, Malik Taylor, Jarobi White, and Ali Shaheed-Muhammad were just four friends from Queens, New York. However, they would soon discover their place in a flourishing era of musical revolution. Though they were only in high school during the time, Jonathan and Malik had the craving for meaningful creative expression. Jonathan started to establish his identity as a hip-hop MC by performing under the name “MC Love Child.” Malik was compelled by the poetic feats of skilled rappers, forging his own lyrics over the old-school beats of his friends’ beatboxes. When they entered high school, Jonathan and Malik’s new friends, Ali and Jarobi, would share the same passion for the art of hip-hop. These four would formulate a quartet of artists called “A Tribe Called Quest,” with Jonathan (now “Q-Tip”) and Malik (now “Phife Dawg”) at the head of the ensemble.

The group would throw a wrench into the status quo with their ambitious sound, creating smooth melodies and beautifully incorporated samples in contrast to the repetitive, one-dimensional state of the early-90s hip-hop scene. When the group released a demo (a small collection of songs) to attract interest from record labels, they were rejected by major labels due to their emphasis on melodic production rather than using the uninspired, factory-made drum-loops which overwhelmed the mainstream. However, this challenge wouldn’t stop the group from budding, as they would find refuge in Calliope Studios; this label allowed Tribe to flourish without the restrictions imposed by the synthetic, manufactured hip-hop of the time. So, with all lights flashing green on the road ahead, Tribe would begin their passage with freshman album “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm,” released in 1990. After the record became a wild success, Tribe’s impact would continue and flourish with the smooth “Low End Theory,” the upbeat “Midnight Marauders,” and the aggressive “Beats, Rhymes and Life.” Their sound would quake throughout the genre, inspiring the rise of hip-hop pioneers Mos Def, Andre 3000, Busta Rhymes, and countless others by giving them the courage to challenge the norm.

However, the group would apparently split with the release of “The Love Movement” in 1998, touted as Tribe’s last album. Jarobi had already left after “Instinctive Travels;” the other members branched off into individual pursuits, regressing to their separate identities. Q-Tip would release “Amplified,” a collaboration with Detroit producer J Dilla which proved to find mainstream success. Phife released “Ventilation: Da LP,” and despite being a creative solo endeavor, the record was not as well received by audiences and fell out of reproduction. Their split would persist through almost two decades, but everything would change on March 22, 2016 with the death of Malik, aka Phife Dawg. Suffering complications from type-2 diabetes, Phife would die at the young age of 45, permanently tearing through the heart of Tribe and leaving an irreplaceable gap in the once vigorous group. His death would motivate the previous members, Q-Tip, Ali, and Jarobi, to reunite and collaborate on a final tribute to Phife and the group itself.

With Phife’s passing, as well as the plague of social problems accompanying Donald Trump’s controversial election, Tribe have found themselves amidst a chaotic period. “We got it from Here” reflects this chaos, harshened with brooding, sharp, and hard-hitting themes overlaying the classic sound which led to Tribe’s original success. Divided into two “discs,” or sections of the record, the digital album mimics the two sides of a vinyl, harkening back to the old-school origins of Tribe. The album kicks off with “The Space Program,” a very dark commentary on the disposability of African Americans in today’s predominantly discriminatory culture, complemented with appropriately brash and intimidating samples. Next is “We the People…,” a track which carries a similarly dark vibe by displaying the racism and hatred present in today’s society. Chanting “All you Black folks, you must go / All you Mexicans, you must go / And all you poor folks, you must go / Muslims and gays, boy, we hate your ways,” Q-Tip satirizes the awful marginalization inflicted upon underprivileged and minority groups today, demonstrating how repugnant the hatred for one another has become. Then, on tracks such as “Melatonin,” Q-Tip comments on the widespread abuse of antidepressants by adolescents, used to compensate for the stressful environment of today’s world. Despite the atrocities that may afflict the people of today, Tribe still retains lightheartedness in tracks such as “Mobius,” featuring the in-your-face patois of Busta Rhymes, and “Solid Wall of Sound,” with guitar expertise from Jack White and vocals from Elton John; both tracks were crafted to demonstrate the lyrical expertise and beautiful production perfected by Tribe. However, the theme of cynicism and atrocity booms throughout the entire album, permeating the mind of the listener and becoming more prominent as the album approaches its end, covering the trivialization of politics by the media on “Conrad Tokyo” and the destructive nature of arrogance on “Ego.” Finally, the album reaches its outro on “The Donald,” named after the infamous presidential candidate Donald Trump. Despite its name, this track is actually a tribute to the death of Phife Dawg, and serves as a poetic eulogy to a source of creativity forever lost to this world.

Ultimately, though “We got it from Here” seems to veer toward the intimidating themes of politics, chaos, and loss, its entrancing melodies transport the listener to a beautiful world, a universe carefully built by the architects of rhythm and poetry. I would highly recommend this album to both curious and experienced listeners of hip-hop. You can listen to “We got it from Here” on streaming services Apple Music, Spotify, or Google Play.

 

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A Tribe Called Quest