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ANYA LEIBOVITCH- Melbourne
And just when you thought it was over, A Tribe Called Quest steps in to save the day.
The last couple of weeks have been a real downer, and we are all left feeling a little out of sorts. So I really cannot overstate my excitement in hearing the news that after 18 years, my favourite hip-hop quartet of all time have dropped some fresh tunes. When the people lose confidence in those that govern them, that’s the basis for a revolution. And this is the soundtrack.
Since the group’s formation in 1985, they have been dubbed major players in the hip-hop scene, as well as ambassadors for their community. Both Phife Dawg and Q-Tip grew up in Queens, New York and the streets – as well as their politics – have always featured prominently in ATCQ’s music. The two-disc farewell of epic proportions We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service continues in this tradition, ruminating on ideas of power, race, and all things political, while managing to keep it smooth and sexy and relatively chilled – or as chilled as you can be when considering the systematic oppression of black people in America. ATCQ knows how to make a point without alienating their audience.
The album’s opening track “The Space Program” sets the tone for the album. It is a call to arms, with front men Q-Tip and Phife Dawg urging listeners to “get it together […] and make something happen.” The lyrics juxtapose our technological advancements as a species with our inability to see past our own limited points of view. We are still facing the prevalence of racism in society, and ATCQ uses the concept of space travel to explore how issues of race and poverty are so limiting, often in very tangible ways. Jarobi poignantly raps: “It always seems the poorest persons are people forsaken,” a sentiment that aptly describes the current political climate in the U.S., where we have seen the true deterioration of the democratic system in favour of a type of governance that is much more concerned with the corporate agenda than the will of the people.
ATCQ commonly make references throughout the album to the prison-industrial complex and police brutality. On “Whateva Will Be,” Jarobi raps: “Sublimate their youth, hypersexualize their women/They ain’t got the strong enough hold, so they built the prisons,” essentially rattling off a list of ways in which African Americans have been subjugated by the white majority. This might be the boldest album by the group to date in terms of the forthrightness of the lyrics; there’s certainly no beating around the bush, and no apologies offered. The fact that the album was released within 48 hours of the results of the American election is surely more than coincidental. I have always found ATCQ’s music so powerful, and this album was made more for fist-raising than head-bobbing. There is a certain urgency that differentiates it from Tribe’s previous releases, letting us know that this shit is serious.
This is the ATCQ revolution, and I’m all about it.
The tracks come together as a vibrant, energetic collection and really complement one another. “Kids…” features stellar lyricist André 3000, who collaborates with Q-Tip to warn the younger generation; “Kids, don’t you know how all this shit is fantasy?,” a refrain which brings to light the falsehoods of the social constructs that we have come to accept. ATCQ is all about expanding your mind and thinking critically, which is why they are such a fundamental force with the ability to activate the political will of marginalized peoples, those who feel they have no voice and no power to create change. Through their music they dispel this belief, and the album is very much geared towards empowerment.
Aside from being their final collaborative project as the legendary foursome, the group said goodbye to one of their brothers earlier this year. Phife Dawg passed away from complications related to type 2 diabetes, a disease he had been battling throughout his entire career. Determined to finish the record, Q-Tip pulled it together, showcasing his well-honed production skills, and the result is nothing short of masterful. This record contains the last of Phife’s prolific rhymes, and is a true honour to his memory.
So here’s to 30 years of inspiration and good vibes, and to one of the most influential hip-hop acts of all time going out the only way they know how. ATCQ had a style that was unmatched, and we thank them for the beats, rhymes and life they shared with us over the last few decades. It’s hard to say goodbye, but for now we can revel in their latest accomplishments, ensuring we preserve their legacy of peace, love and good vibes. As Q-Tip says in “Black Spasmodic,” “rip every stage with grace, look right dead in they face/ Live the Tribe principle of havin’ impeccable taste.” Amen.