A Tribe Called Quest
We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service Album Review
Released November 11, 2016
Genre: Jazz Rap, Boom Bap, Conscious Hip Hop, Political Hip Hop
It’s 2016, and a new Tribe album seems about as redundant as it ever could, no less within the context of our current divisive rhetoric between the self-proclaimed “old heads” and 2016’s new class of young and iconoclastic stars. The discussion has been dominated by hip hop’s brand new voices who both preach and practice progression within the genre, to a point where many older, reactionary fans are feeling a bit isolated, and very confused. It’s anything but a new conversation. The growing divide peaked with Lil Yachty’s admission to never having listened to Notorious B.I.G. (he also confessed to never having eaten a vegetable, so let’s put things in context). Enter A Tribe Called Quest, who haven’t released music for nearly 20 years, but have been nothing but aggressively progressive for their entire career. With a discography matched by few, and a legacy solidified within the spectrum of American music, they have nothing to prove, but seemingly a lot to say.
The album kicks off with a quick round of excellent, fiery boom-bap tracks that feature the classic back-and-forth phrasing style from Quest’s cannons that we’ve grown accustomed to. “We The People…” absolutely stomps, and when Q-Tip opens into a verbal assault on American political culture in what is probably the most memorable verse on the album, it’s clear that he hasn’t lost his rhetorical edge. Nothing here is quite as fun, catchy, or convicting as Tribe’s best moments in the 90s, but it comes pretty damn close. When Tip and Three Stacks begin trading verses on “Kids…” I can’t help but think back to when southern hip-hop had virtually zero legitimacy in hip-hop’s East/West continuum, and how Outkast – much like Tribe – had to build their reputation solely on the backs of their words and rhythms. This is a good feeling. The first half of the album ends with “Enough!!” which, by all accounts, features the best instrumental on the album. Fans of their iconic sex tracks like “Bonita Applebum” and “Electric Relaxation” will find all of that innocent charm here, including a certain sitar sample that astute Tribe and Fugees fans are sure to enjoy.
The second half of the album, by comparison, is relatively forgettable. The innovative, fresh beats are traded for interchangeable kick-snare-kick-kick-snare drones that can be purchased for pennies on YouTube, and their standard self-referencing/braggadocio isn’t even clever at this point. In fact, aside from “Conrad Tokyo,” the entire second half of the album feels a bit like an unwanted appendage. “Movin’ Backwards“ is easily the worst song on the album, boasting a half-assed, non-committal guitar riff repeated ad infinitum, battling (yes, battling) an equally nauseating and disappointing sung vocal feature from, (sigh), Anderson .Paak, whose output up to this point has been absolutely stellar. Thankfully, “Conrad Tokyo” is immediately engaging, and even pretty bluesy. Hearing Phife pass the mic to a newly-canonized Kendrick Lamar is refreshing, but unless you really want to hear a typically garish Jack White guitar solo followed by “a celebrated genius/My dick game the meanest,” ending the album here is probably a great idea.
Passive lovers of nostalgia and background music alike are going to be pretty pleased with this, as a whole. However, those looking for a new offering from A Tribe Called Quest that is willing and ABLE to take on a radically different audience and musical climate are going to be left feeling more than a little slighted. Before I was introduced to Tribe by way of a mix CD given to me by a middle school friend, hip-hop didn’t have a place in my life, but the razor-sharp flows, minimalist production, and difficult subject matter quickly had me hooked. Years later, hearing these new songs feels a lot like being reunited with an old friend, and the best ones from this album will inevitably become classics within their catalogue. Unfortunately, as high as these moments can be, the low points are far worse. Overall, the album doesn’t feel necessary or even very relevant, but as far as I’m concerned, it is certainly welcome.
FAV TRACKS: We The People…, Enough!!, Conrad Tokyo
LEAST FAV TRACKS: Movin’ Backwards, Ego