The final Tribe Called Quest record kills right until the end.
Back in 1985 two friends from Queens chose to make new rap by unconventional means. Yes, A Tribe Called Quest were unlike other rappers, they had conscience and class and sly beats like hammers, with Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White, they would lay down the line for what would be new life, for the art of Hip Hop had begun to evolve then, while reporting the problems it would try to solve them.
Positivity compounded in the Native Tongues with De La Soul, Black Sheep and Jungle Brothers as one, they took Hip Hop to places it had never been, and gave hope to all the people who were tired of the scene. In 1990 it would come to pass, their first album would drop and it would move some ass, and by “The Low End Theory” in ’91, with their legendary status only just begun, they could have no idea in 20 16 what a new ‘Quest’ record could possibly mean to those raised on Lil’ Wayne, Eminem and Drake, or what direction that the record could possibly take. As it turned out the album would go number one; after all this time they’re still tons of fun, the flows were just as deft and the beats still flex, even Enough!! (which ruminates on the trials of sex).
Opener “The Space Program” is a storm of layers, taking immediate charge and answering your prayers, a reinvigorated Tribe for the present day, fluid thoughts moving fast with their rhyme display that doesn’t seem to have diminished with the passage of time, Q-Tip all on the off beat, tougher than crime; a precedent set in production and sound and boy, do Quest like to throw the beats around. There’s an approach that reminds me of Robert Johnson, once he was done with riffs, he decided to toss them. Just bits they needed remain on track, and as the record progressed I thought they’d dial it back, but ATCQ know just what to do, not dallying or fannying, just smashing through. Tracks like “We The People” and “Whatever Will Be” would give Gil Scott Heron a smile or three, as their depiction of the life of people of colour paints a very dim view of how we see each other; how the media wants a black man to be a criminal, an idiot, a cheat, nothing covert or subliminal, how the way white America looks at its own is something that humanity can’t possibly condone. The Killing Season shows how the country sees veterans, or how someone’s only crime can be possession of melanin, which in this day and age shouldn’t be at all, as we’re all born human, after all.
The stars came out to get on this jam, Jack White, Kanye, Anderson Paak, and Rocket Man. Yes, Elton John sings on “Solid Wall Of Sound”, that voice gifting the hook as the boys get down. Dis Generation has a stellar show from Busta Rhymes who’s collaborated with the Tribe many times, its suggestion that your lyrics are fundamental and that strength of such things are intercontinental is boosted by the fact that they tip their hats to the next generation of Hip Hop cats. On “Kids”… Andre 3000’s laconic flow states the knowledge that all children think that they know exactly how the world works when they’re 16, that they know what every single thing can possibly mean, while forgetting that their parents were once kids too, and they went through all the same shit as you while trying to figure out what the hell they’re meant to do with even less information than you got at school.
On march 22nd, Phife Dawg passed on, the 5 foot assassin with the vocal brawn. His death is quite affecting on three of the tracks, with reverence and honesty, and hearts will crack to hear Phife Dawg and Jarobi give so much back to their long-loved brother, for whom they cared so much and all the lives that Phife was able to touch. The description of Jarobi making sure he ate, staying up and writing till the hour was late I found genuinely moving, not the least bit sad, for it seems that he got to see the impact he had, and on “Black Spasmodic” he acquits himself by being in robust and masterly musical health; Q-Tip’s final verse seems to come from Phife himself and that life is it’s own impossible wealth –“ I’m leaving, but n**** you still got the work to do I expect the best from you, I’m watching from my heaven view.”
Sure, there are moments when the fact that they cut everything until the listener feels like they’re mainlining adrenalin and maybe that direction change so sudden and so shuddering makes those for whom Marauders felt incredibly unsettling leap from the tallest building screaming ‘why the hell is everything so difficult to dance to on the first initial listening?’ That’s to miss the point because this record is unwilling to give concessions to the middling and short-sighted and piffling idea that modern Hip Hop has to be a certain way and to everyone who’s reading I can counter your dismay by stating openly and clearly, as music is my friend, that the final “record kills right until the end.