They got it from Here: A Review of A Tribe Called Quest’s Latest Album (Part 1)

I still have a lot to learn about music. I haven’t seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show, liked all the singles from Justin Bieber’s Purpose, and haven’t gotten past the third track of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I’m only 13. But I, arguably, do have better taste in music (or at least a constantly expanding taste) than my classmates. But on November 12, I stayed up until 1 a.m. to watch Saturday Night Live for two things: 1.) Dave Chappelle’s opening monologue, and 2.) A Tribe Called Quest’s performance. Before this, I had never listened to a word of ATCQ. Sure, I had made mental notes to download Low End, but that never took effect.

This performance made it take effect. When Chappelle uttered the words “Ladies and gentlemen… at long last…” I almost felt like jizzing my pants. As Q-Tips finished his speech (I’m calling it a speech) and the instrumental kicked in, I was taken back to hip-hop acts like Niggaz Wit Attitudes, Public Enemy and Biggie’s “Gimme the Loot”. This felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me, so I’m proud to present you with these impressions and hopefully make this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you.

The LP starts off with a sample of the 1974 blaxploitation film Willie Dynamite, marking the opening to “The Space Program”, and it could not have been more accurate. “We’ve got to get our shit together,” it preaches, as Q-Tip and Phife Dawg start the sermon: “It’s time to go left and not right/Gotta get it together forever/Gotta get it together for brothers/Gotta get it together for sisters.” Despite the (obvious) racial undertones to both the sample and the lyrics, it extends beyond that, trying to unite the people of the world to fix the disturbing shit that’s occurring. As the first verse hits, you’re treated to delightful verses from Q and Jarobi White, whose bars are accompanied by a snippet of the evil laughter from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. Nice to here him after all the mentions from other albums.

The hook (“There ain’t a space program for niggas/Yeah, you stuck here nigga”) gives us a nice metaphor and harsh truth for the current state of African-Americans. There’s seemingly not an active movement to improve the lives of blacks and help them look forward to the future (the effects of showcasing a space program, whether for Mars or the moon) so they’re in that position, almost permanently unless they MAKE something happen. At the end, a sample of the classic 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (a tribute to Gene Wilder? Or a fitting scene?) follows. With Wilder wildly exclaiming, “The danger must be growing; for the rowers keep rowing; and they’re certainly not showing any signs of slowing!” and “A small step for mankind but a giant step for us,” they lead to the second track.

“We the People…” is just…. holy fucking shit. This is just one of the most excellent tracks on the album. It was nice seeing it live, but the studio version is just as excellent, if not more. With the drums and the electronic humming and the sirens, it rightfully gives KRS-One a run for their money. Quest really puts it all out there with this one, from using the Preamble of the Constitution to show the irony of today’s views of the government. The rest of the song focuses on the updated Civil Rights movement (“You in the killing-of-good-young-nigga mood”) and current emotions (“The OG Gucci boot are smitten with iguanas” and the previous line “guilty pleasures that take the edge off reality”). The hook (“All you black folks, you must go/all you Mexicans, you must go/and all you poor folks, you must go/Muslims and gays, boy we hate your ways/so all you bad folks, you must go”) is clearly aimed at (then-candidate, now-president-elect) Donald Trump, and the absurdity of his views, all without saying it directly (although, there was a scrapped song off of Low End called “Georgie Porgie” that disowned someone who was gay; glad to see their ways changed!). Then the bridge to Phife’s verse… I feel like it would be best for you to listen to it instead of me telling you.

This is a very good start to a comeback. I’m hoping the next couple of tracks will be as enticing.