The cameos by Elton John, Anderson .Paak, Kanye and Kendrick Lamar are nice, but it's the ambitious productions that super-charge this record
The Friday after Donald Trump became the U.S. president-elect, we learned that 82-year-old Leonard Cohen had died and A Tribe Called Quest had released their first album in 18 years. While there’s no silver lining in sight for a world grappling with a wrong-headed, depressingly backward election result, Cohen’s passing and Tribe’s resurrection were bittersweet.
Like David Bowie in January, Cohen had dispatched a prescient record about the end of his life just before leaving us. You Want It Darker, Cohen called it, and he filled it with farewells. As news of his death spread, millions revisited the music – gifts, really – that he’d released over six decades, and its genius tempered the sadness.
Eerily enough, Tribe’s unexpected comeback LP – a triumphantly outspoken, brash blast of incisive songs informed by inequality, displacement, joy, loss, humour, working, time’s passage, wit and sick production – is also mired in death. When emcee Phife Dawg passed away last March at the age of 45, nobody knew ATCQ had begun working on a new record in December 2015. All we fans had was our pain.
Rumblings began late in the summer by the end of October Q-Tip – the rapper, producer, musician and guru of Tribe – confirmed the LP was on. Phife would be there, along with an array of guests, both expected (Busta Rhymes, Consequence, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Andre 3000) and not (Jack White, Elton John, Anderson .Paak).
Star attractions are nice but it’s Tribe, Tip and his ambitious productions that super-charge this record. Spiritual crony/sporadic core member Jarobi White makes his ATCQ rapping debut(!), lighting up the scoreboard on The Space Program, a conscious reminder to “get it together” on this planet we share. From beyond, Phife is glorious on the Dilla-tinged Whateva Will Be, while Tip actually speed-raps here and there on Solid Wall Of Sound. What a pleasant surprise.
In an Earth-weary funk, I went for a walk today, pressed play on this record, and found myself dancing down the street. Like Beastie Boys’ final record, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, there’s a fearless sense of adventure at work. Sonically, they try everything (including sampling Can’s Halleluhwah twice) because, well, this was it what did they have to lose?
Turns out they lost part of themselves forever, which only galvanized them to remind kids that they were one of the most dynamic, powerful creative hubs of all time. Bring your worst, world. We got a new Tribe record so we’re good.
Top track: We The People…
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