18 years since the release of ‘The Love Movement’, legendary rhythm prophets A Tribe Called Quest have released their sixth and final album. In the wake of founding member Phife Dawg’s death back in March, it seems as if Tribe’s legacy has been channeled through every lens of reflection this year. This new release, however, embodies the philosophy of looking forward and embracing the ideals of progression and education.
A lot has been written about Tribe’s influence in tandem with global political unrest and it’d be a huge feat to unpack hip-hop’s role in this continuing vortex of confusion and fear. Before digging into the specifics of this landmark album, it’s a good a time as any to encourage the least afflicted to ally with, support and provide a platform for those most vulnerable that need to have their voices heard.
“To make something happen, let’s make something happen”, as first track ‘The Space Program’ prophecies. And the contractive ‘let’s’ is key here because ‘We Got It’ is packed with family member features both new and beloved climbing into frame. The raw production and vocal recordings make some entry verses — like Consequence’s bars at the end of ‘Whateva Will Be’ — feel like an extra person squeezing into a family portrait.
Despite the addition of new blood like Anderson .Paak on ‘Movin Backwards’ and Kendrick on ‘Conrad Tokyo’, the overall production, overseen by master cutter Ali Shaeed Muhammed, is unfiltered, choppy and distinctly reminiscent of the original Tribe sound. The paranoid and chilling beat that in ‘Mobius’ in coupled with the upbeat and jovial ‘Black Spasmodic’ make for colourful and applicably conflicting soundtracks to corral hope.
Q-Tip, historically the centrepiece in Tribe’s history, applies himself to a limited few solo cuts like the Phife tribute song ‘Lost Somebody’ which features one of the many poignant lines from this album: “No more crying, he’s in sunshine”.
Elsewhere, Tip projects like a human Catherine Wheel, especially when supported on tracks like ‘Morbius’ with longtime Tribe collaborator Busta Rhymes. On this round, Busta cuts all ties to decorum and delivers this year’s most outrageous and batshit-joyous verse. The same can’t be said, and for good reason, on Andre 3000’s heart-wrenching input on the introspective ‘Kids’.
Dre’s flow is mediated and broody, reflecting on the burdening responsibility for young black men in America. On how the system sets the youth up to fail and the loss in the luxury of being able to fantasise. Tip and Andre swap lines with saddening realism: “Condolences to niggas that got erased / I pour out some liquor on a cop's grave”, a sentiment reinforced on the Jack White-flavoured ‘Movin Backwards’.
For us at a cultural distance from the hellstorm, we have the privilege of speculating what’s going to change in America over the next few years. For the most vulnerable, American history has been a canary in the coal mine for these events to unfurl.
But defiance, ambition and creativity prosper in the face of worsening tides; this album is physical evidence of that. As a distorted world where agendas reign and media manipulations pry us apart, Tribe stand for family and unity. The sheer timelessness of this album leaves me cautiously hopeful for a wake up call where institutions of love can be fortified, the close-minded open their borders to understanding and good music continues to be made. Thank you for your service, Tribe.
Words: Will Butler
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