Best of 2016 III: A Tribe Called Quest

An album dropped by such a universally acclaimed, pop history altering group as A Tribe Called Quest after 18 years’ hiatus would already have carried enough significance to be a bombshell. When you add the fact that core member and lead champion of the project, Phife Dawg, died of complications from diabetes at age 45 mere months before it’s release, the weight of We Got It From Here…Thank You For Your Service is quite staggering. I can’t describe the impact of this better than this excellent article in the New York Times, so all I will offer is my reading of the music.

Everyone loves a comeback, and internet culture seems obsessed with 90’s nostalgia. But ATCQ’s return doesn’t feel like it’s riding on this trend in the kitschy way that, say, a New Kids on the Block comeback tour or a Buzzfeed list does. Revered as the progenitors of alternative rap for their socially conscious lyrics, heavy bass riffs, and innovative samples (such as Lou Reed on the ubiquitous classic “Can I Kick It?”) ATCQ came to the forefront of the music scene when Black America was rising up against the pathologizing of Blackness, of Black men in particular.The 1991 police beating of Rodney King and subsequent riots brought this sentiment to a head. The gangsta rap movement and artists like N.W.A. responded by wielding this pathology as a threatening weapon against oppressive forces. ATCQ is renowned for taking a different approach, focusing on diversifying their stylistic influences and creating complex lyrics that addressed social issues at hand in their community.
Moving Backwards feat. Anderson Paak

ACTQ have always been defined by their use of heavy bass, but the bass hook in this track is particularly gut busting. The track opens with one of many lyrics acknowledging their legacy in the rap genre (Jarobi:”I hope my legendary style of rap lives on”). The lyrics also engage with the idea of a comeback, exploring what it means to revisit and reflect on the past without moving backwards.

Conrad Tokyo feat. Kendrick Lamar

Conrad Tokyo’s hook seems inane, but this track is the most explicitly political of the album, actively denouncing Donald Trump and popular media’s role in treating the whole thing as a joke and detracting from the serious issues at hand in his ultimate success. Joining forces with Kendrick Lamar, a de facto spokesperson for the Black Live Matter movement and one of the hottest current rappers, contextualizes their lasting impact.

Black Spasmodic feat. Consequence

Probably my favorite track in terms of groove, this takes a strong stance holding down ACTQ’s legacy in the “don’t make them like they used to” vein. Q-Tip channels the departed Phife Dawg “through mixing chords and boards and even drum machines” to remind us who’s still the baddest. Although the album includes a true elegy in the track “Love Somebody,” I see this track as the strongest tribute to Phife Dawg’s legacy.

Kids feat. Andre 3000

This has a bit of an odd, 8-bit video game type groove, a cautionary tale admonishing today’s kids to burst the bubble of 90’s hip hop historiography. Impeccable flow about snacks from my fave, Andre 3000:

“Kids, say I’m the shit
I’m Chick-fil-A nuggets, McDonald’s french fries
The spicy Popeye’s and Red Lobster biscuits, and girl scouts thin mints”

 

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