Friday, December 2nd, 2016

Childish Gambino – Me and Your Mama

Psych-prog hip-hop…


[Video][Website]
[6.17]

Ramzi Awn: An epic of masterful proportions, “Me and Your Mama” takes its sweet, sweet time. Structurally, it conjures up something entirely new, and the mix boasts all the right levels. From the carnival laugh to the Zep-infused rhythm, Gambino leaves nothing off the table and belts a raucous vocal.   
[10]

Anthony Easton: Between the end of this, most of Frank Ocean’s Endless, and Clipping, is this the year that hip hop just fully absorbed prog? 
[7]

Alfred Soto: He wanted Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow; he gets Let Love Rule with bronchitis.
[5]

Will Adams: Aw, that’s cute: he thinks he’s Miguel.
[4]

Jessica Doyle: At this point I will grant Donald Glover license to do just about anything, up to and including a six-minute-long, Moog-enhanced, drain-circling sideways meditation on the negative effects of continuous marijuana smoking on fragile love and vice versa.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: It’s jazzy, it’s psychedelic soul, and it’s nothing at all like I expected. Someone’s been listening to a lot of Andre 3000.
[6]

Friday, December 2nd, 2016

Miranda Lambert – We Should Be Friends

Aww, we like you too, Miranda!


[Video][Website]
[7.17]

Lauren Gilbert: I’m a bit torn on Miranda Lambert’s half-spoken half-sung songs (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”, “Little Red Wagon”) — if you can’t shout along to the chorus while driving 90 down the highway, what’s the point of a country song? — but this is a wonderful shout-out to women, in all their complexities.  Miranda Lambert has made a career out of being a character; not the girl next door, not even the woman wronged, but as a woman who might may be a little crazy, but goddamn she’s fun.  She’s her own person, Blake Shelton or no, and this song feels like a shout-out to all the women like her; who might go through heartbreaks and flings and maybe marriages, but are more than the men they fuck/don’t fuck.  Lambert and her friends exist completely on their own terms, and I can’t help but love that sentiment.
[7]

Anthony Easton: Albums are weird these days, and country seems to be resting on EPs or singles. Lambert’s latest album has a number of songs that read as singles but don’t work as part of a larger narrative of the album. Think of something like Lemonade, which had both singles and a cohesive, smooth narrative–the singles existed, but they didn’t pop out of an album, or disrupt (or if they did disrupt, it was on purpose — it seemed a deliberate choice). So I am not surprised that this is a single — it would sound great at concerts, and I look forward to the video. But it seems too simple and too well-constructed for Miranda’s voice, and the writing isn’t nearly as interesting as Audra Mae’s “Little Red Wagon.”
[6]

Alfred Soto: Singers spend lifetimes in search of the colloquial ease with which Miranda Lambert sings “sedative.” Bands look in vain for the interplay between bass and drums herein.
[9]

Thomas Inskeep: One of the most radio-friendly country songs on the stellar The Weight of My Wings, and kind of a throwaway by Lambert’s standards — but her throwaways are better than most artists’ keepers at this point, so much is she driving the pace car for contemporary country music. 
[7]

Ramzi Awn: Miranda Lambert knows how to keep things simple. “We Should Be Friends” isn’t a surprising single, and that’s one of the best things about it. Miranda’s delivery, as usual, doesn’t hurt.    
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: I just don’t believe her. Not on a personal level; I know for a fact that even if I tripled my alcohol intake, gained the according weight, tattooed my entire wherever, Rented the whole damn Runway, kept the mind clutter and heart corrosion, the song directed at the likes of me would still be “Only Prettier.” Which is fine, but Lambert can’t decide whether she’s going for universal (stained tees, drinking and smoking, pain and shame) or for Southern shibboleths (daddy lessons, “bless you heart” as a pejorative). Not on a musical level; the crinkle in her voice’s a little too pronounced, and it slips. The writing’s solid, if a bit too formulatic in its list-song structure, and she can command a band. But the thinness of the arrangement, before the country-radio-mandated chorus thickening, suggests Lambert’s trying to fill in the gaps with relatability that’s just assumed to be there.
[6]

Friday, December 2nd, 2016

John Mayer – Love on the Weekend

He should really consider bottling some of that overflowed serotonin and donating it to science, to help with researching new psychiatric meds. Just sayin’.


[Video][Website]
[4.50]

Will Adams: Bad: “serotonin overflow.” Worse: “flying fast like a wanted man.” Worst: “I hate your guts.” And yet, miles better than “Your Body Is a Wonderland” (which haunts me to this day) as far as ceaseless hounding goes. The gorgeous arrangement helps; Mayer’s affected twang does not.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: Do people just like Mayer’s music because they want to have sex with him? Because these tepid grad school come-ons are straight up bullshit: “I’ll be dreamin’ of the next time we can go/Into another serotonin overflow,” for fuck’s sake. He’s the sleazeball who beds anyone he wants, and there’s no good answer why, apart (I guess) from his being a smooth bullshit artist.
[0]

Katie Gill: Oh my God. This is country. This is country, this is John Mayer doing a stripped down country production, muting the vocals, adding some lazy guitars, and taking out the banjo and strings, this is John Mayer writing a song after mainlining Kenny Chesney and thinking “I want to do that, but with less twang.” As such, I know I’d like this better if it HAD those banjos, strings, and twang.
[5]

Anthony Easton: Mayer never knows how to play between smarm and sweetness; this kind of works until the line about serotonin, and then it becomes too clever by half. 
[4]

Ramzi Awn: In an interesting turn of events, John Mayer offers up a perfectly fine take on country love, down to the piano wire.   
[6]

Alfred Soto: Whaddya know — a persuasive Mayer about getting laid? The arrangement is tops: strategically deployed piano runs caressing his guitar, which he strums for the sake of tart bursts. The lyrics, however, deserve another draft; when John sings about “serotonin overflow” he sounds like a man who just painted his toenails.
[7]

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

Davido ft. Tinashe – How Long

TSJ also offers night classes so you too can learn the language of sexy R&B.


[Video][Website]
[5.71]

Thomas Inskeep: Yoruba + English, Davido + Tinashe, but you know what’s an international language? Sexy R&B. 
[7]

Alfred Soto: Placid lounge reggae with piano accents and no sense that the vocalists have met in the room to bump against the piano, much less each other.
[3]

Iain Mew: The warp and whoosh of the production, grainy yet mostly weightless, sets the mood nicely. Vocally, Davido and Tinashe don’t do much more with it than settle in for the duration but that feels on-theme at least.
[6]

Adaora Ede: Not quite appreciative of the phoned-in Tinashe verses, complacently admiring her Yoruba pronunciation. Witnessing cross-cultural trade in the Black music industry should always be a win for the diaspora, but when it seems as if Tiwa Savage or Yemi Alade etc. could have easily been called in to understudy for Tinashe’s floaty ad libbing, it’s not a worthwhile feature in terms of blending the best of their separate musical affinities. Well, that’s outside the odd couple of 9ja signature Autotune and those lovely 90% air 10% technique vocals! Davido comes off as a little befuddled himself: “How Long” navigates through calmed highlife to what I can only think of as African style saxobeat — think a less obnoxious “Don’t Mind” to some cool housey stuff. Whew, making tropo pop not sound like tropo pop must be a trying task.
[6]

Ramzi Awn: Davido’s energy is commendable, and so is Tinashe’s commitment. But the line between slow jam and just slow wears thin.
[5]

Anthony Easton: I am fascinated by the line about the differences between pretty and sexy, like Davido is working through which strategy would be most effective in convincing this woman to stay, even before working on sleeping with her. You can hear it in the longing way Tinashe answers back. It becomes relational in a way, where the performance of the work is more interesting than what is being said. They work well together. 
[6]

Edward Okulicz: I’m into this. I love the interplay between Davido’s and Tinashe’s voices and the song’s both blinding sun and unresolved tension and lust. It feels playful and light not laboured, and smooth like a cocktail you drink by the pool unaware you’re already tipsy and fearlessly stroking your crush’s leg.
[7]

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

KDA ft. Tinashe – Just Say

And because “2 On” is still a big tune, that’s why.


[Video][Website]
[6.12]

Kat Stevens: I was never 100% sure at the time how to recognise whether something was actually funky house or not, because asking someone about it would involve uttering the words “funky house” out loud. If you told me “Just Say” was part of the funky house revival, I’d believe you and nod approvingly like I definitely knew what you were talking about. However there’s a subtle element of Rui Da Silva trance in there to give me a moment’s doubt. Was there ever such a thing as funky trance? “funkytrance.com’s server DNS address could not be found” suggests not, but if so  then Tinashe’s Pentium-Dual-Core-Fembot vocal is a decent pairing for it. 
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: Tinashe is much more well-suited for singing sultry R&B than for dance diva-dom, and KDA does her no favors whatsoever here.
[2]

Danilo Bortoli: This Ashley Beedle remix, undoubtedly one the year’s best tracks, exposes what the original could have been: an explosion of joy and kitsch that instead sounds cold and restrained. Don’t blame Tinashe though: here she is the best house vocalist we’ve had in a while.
[5]

Iain Mew: It bumps in a similar, slightly harder way than “Rumble” and Tinashe proves at least the lower key equal of Katy B, but I can’t help but feel this too would be enhanced by a couple of Tinie Tempah verses, or at least something to break it up a bit more.
[6]

Claire Biddles: A dangerous and sexy fever dream; like coaxing a confession from your beloved’s speeding heart whilst holding a knife to their throat. 
[9]

Will Adams: More a proof of concept for “Tinashe as house vocalist” than an actual song.
[5]

Edward Okulicz: I love Tinashe, and she’s best when she’s laid thickly over something dirty and desirous like “All Hands on Deck.” This one’s desirous on paper, but it’s frictionless and empty; it’s too neat and clean to communicate the need of the words.
[5]

Ramzi Awn: “Just Say” hits refresh on pop and brings freestyle back into the mix, making for a seamless dance banger. Put this on your playlist. 
[10]

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

Britney Spears ft. Tinashe – Slumber Party

Today’s entries all feature Feature Kween Tinashe. Because Tinashe.


[Video][Website]
[5.71]

Alfred Soto: Its original version a 7 already, this “Slumber Party” offers a Britney and Tinashe who hide the suspicion that they’ve got nothing in common using breathy anticipation. As in the original, the electronic wobbles and canned mariachi chorus summon an idea of a slumber party to which teenage girls should aspire.
[7]

Ramzi Awn: “Slumber Party” is so classy, it’s literally a sleeper. Effortless vocals, a groove for days, and built to repeat. Every part of it is true. And you need to listen to it at a slumber party. 
[10]

Katie Gill: Britbrit’s current career has been on a rocky trend, from the abject horror that’s “Pretty Girls” to the love-it-or-hate-it “Make Me.” So imagine my shock when she puts out something that’s… actually good? The slumber party metaphor is pretty darn juvenile and stretched to the point of no return and the beatwork is nothing new, but the sultry vocals do wonders and that last chorus is downright spectacular. Likewise, Cameo Queen Tinashe is someone I always appreciate seeing even if she doesn’t add much to this song. The end result is something downright sexy and oddly decent.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: Mildly dull until the mildly skanking chorus kicks in; then it’s just bad. Tinashe appears to be here only to provide some sort of hipster cred while Britney sleepwalks through the twilight of her career. 
[3]

Cédric Le Merrer: Playfulness is Glory‘s saving grace, as the album really does need excuses sometimes. So I get that Britney is kind of having fun here and can forgive it as album filler, but why pick this as a single exactly?
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: Images that do not belong together: cologne and candy (sorry, fragrance industry), pillow fights and overdosing, a pillow fortress and an erection, a slumber party and “we use our bodies to make our own videos.” Which is worse: David LaChapelle doing this creepy sexualized-childhood shit before Britney was 18, or whichever conservatory-enabler signed off on Britney doing this creepy sexualized-childhood shit when she’s nearly 35? Shame about the underlying “Body Party” track; at least that time it wasn’t hitched to Swedish reggae, and was inhabited by adults.
[3]

Will Adams: The triumph of Glory was that Britney had finally found production that suited her: butter-smooth pop creations instead of the harsh, angular EDM that sullied Britney Jean. While “Slumber Party” is one of the less impactful cuts — the lyric concept unravels the moment you think about it, and the addition of Tinashe just adds to the confusion — it’s easy enough to get lost in its reggae haze.
[6]

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

The xx – On Hold

In which your editor wonders, not for the first time, why Hall & Oates are still a thing…


[Video][Website]
[6.22]

William John: On the last lead single from the xx, Romy Madley Croft sung about someone who moved through a room “like breathing was easy,” as if they were the only two people in it that mattered. That awareness of the power of cavernous space has been the defining characteristic of the band’s work to date. “On Hold,” complete with a lively Hall & Oates sample, is cluttered by juxtaposition, but the busyness of Jamie xx’s arrangement doesn’t detract from the singers’ dramatic intimacy. This isn’t so much the resuscitation of a band that previously “didn’t have a pulse” or whatever; it’s more like the awakening of a handful of geniuses to the presence of others at the party.
[8]

Alfred Soto: I give’em credit for fucking with their finely calibrated narcolepsy: the art of staring into space until space itself blurs. Mixed high and proud, Romy Croft and Oliver Sim come off like a Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt for the daze-y age while a bass burbles and a chopped vocal flaunts Jamie xx’s admiration for Drake and Kanye.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: I’d listened to this a couple of times and liked it well enough before seeing the xx’s Saturday Night Live performance of “On Hold” last weekend. Their energy in that performance (an odd word to use regarding the xx, I know) really seemed to open the song up. There’s something about watching the chemistry between singers Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim, watching them play guitar and bass (respectively) against each other while singing, while mastermind Jamie xx controls all sorts of keyboards, electronics, samples, and percussion behind them. Significantly, that includes Jamie’s triggering of pitch-shifted samples of Daryl Hall & John Oates’s 1981 classic “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do).” Much has already been made of said samples, so I’ll just add that they really add something to “On Hold,” not just catching the ear but grabbing and pulling it, throwing a super-unexpected element into the xx’s proceedings. (And pay attention to the specific lines incorporated, because they matter as lyrics.) As for the rest of the song, it’s got the xx’s semi-patented mix of subtle drum pads, Cocteaus-esque chiming guitar, and Croft and Sim’s flawless back-and-forth talk-singing. This is a single that gets meatier and deeper with subsequent listens, and may well be the best thing the xx have released since “Intro.” Delicious. 
[9]

Tim de Reuse: This would be a tasteful bare-bones synthpop morsel if it were just a little more brave with its sound design; the most gorgeous parts don’t appear until too late in the song and don’t stay quite as long as I’d like. And those stringy, chopped vocals from Hall & Oates that pass for a chorus are the exact opposite of what this track needed; they sound like the unpolished first pass of a second-rate mashup artist, stuck in an ugly clash with the smooth hum of the rest of the mix.
[5]

Ramzi Awn: There are plenty of good ideas in “On Hold,” but with young hearts come young lyrics. For a song about loss, it borders on the aloof.   
[3]

Will Adams: The xx never became the soundtrack of my teenage years like it did for many of my friends, and after Jamie’s reasonably good solo effort last year, I feel even less inclined to try this time. His chorus, with a julienned Hall & Oates sample over lonely percussive patter, is the most exciting portion of the song, and it’s been sandwiched between Romy and Oliver mumbling their way through a trite breakup narrative. 
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: An xx song with a sample from Hall & Goddamn Oates is the equivalent of the critical discourse throwing up on me; the soft-rock balladry is the equivalent of it doing so in the dentist’s office. Romy and Oliver have taken some voice lessons, at least. Jamie could use lessons in repertoire.
[3]

Scott Mildenhall: Until Sean Paul relents and tweets his endorsement for Mike + The Mechanics, there’ll be a chance this year could be the first since 2003 that the Christmas number one isn’t taken by The X Factor or a charity campaign. “On Hold” is thus perfectly timed. Like an inverse, non-homophobic, non-class tourist “Fairytale of New York”, The xx have released their Christmas single. It sounds like autumn fading into winter with spring inconceivable; Distant Daryl Hall is a plague of summers passed. That vocal filtering isn’t exactly a burst of originality, but none of this needs to be — it’s archetypal fun December misery.
[7]

Danilo Bortoli: The characters who used to occupy The xx’s songs used to be nocturnal beings — people ready to find love in silence and negative spaces. “On Hold” shifts the view: the video is our generation’s “1979.” The song, expectedly, borrows a lot from that melancholia yet fills it with euphoria. A penchant for the unsaid gives place to a prominent sample. Comfort gives place to teenage infatuation. Surprisingly, that does not really change the nature of their music: “On Hold” still hits that sweet spot between falling in and out of love. Their message is simply louder now. And a bit more optimistic.
[9]

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

Rose Elinor Dougall – Stellular

And not one of us had it ruined by mishearing “cellular”…


[Video][Website]
[6.78]

William John: From the kitsch of “Pull Shapes“, to “Find Me Out“‘s devastating heartbreak and corroding faculties, to the comparatively exuberant “Stellular”, one thing has remained constant: Rose Elinor Dougall’s superlative, confounding voice. It’s at once sinewy and commanding, as though it could slice glass, but also velveteen, cosy, and so reliably tender. On “Stellular”, Dougall positions herself as cheerleader, accompanied by cosmic synths and a whirring bass line. When the pistons come to halt and she exclaims “you…are…stellular!” in her round-voiced, admiring, knowing way, not only does it restore the listener’s figurative crops, but makes one flush with incandescent triumph.
[9]

Thomas Inskeep: “Stellular” is built around an awesome snare pulse much akin to Trentemøller’s stellar “River in Me” but goes in some unexpected directions: it’s spacier (pun intended), it’s got vaguely horn-y synths on the chorus, and its title is “Stellular” for chrissake (“having the shape of a small star,” according to Merriam-Webster). The guitar tones read post-punk if not quite new wave, and Dougall’s vocals especially give this liftoff. As someone who never paid attention to the Pipettes, for me “Stellular” is one of 2016’s most pleasant — no, not “pleasant,” more like small-scale magnificent — surprises.
[10]

Madeleine Lee: I’ve been informed that “stellular” is a real word, but it’s not a very attractive-sounding one to me. But if it’s what allows the syllables of “constellations burn brighter” to be laid out over the next line the way they are, turning a potential cliché into something as alien and ear-catching as the marriage of outer-space synths to post-punk bass, then I’ll allow it.
[6]

Katie Gill: This desperately wants to be a synthpop banger. And the verses have the potential for a synthpop bangers! However, the lilting vocals mixed with the ethereal synth mixed with those hard snares just muddle together into noise at certain points–especially ironic considering that the muddled mess is accompanied by “burn brighter.” I wish the song took its own advice.
[5]

Will Adams: With its hyper-tempo and skittery synths, “Stellular” plays like a brighter reimagining of Trentemøller’s “River In Me.” While it misses out on some of the sinister edge, Rose Elinor Dougall’s starry-eyed performance is a pleasure in itself.
[7]

Ramzi Awn: Finding someone stellular in a cold and cruel city is a great feeling, but it doesn’t always sound so great on record.
[3]

Ryo Miyauchi: Instead of showing us how big the stars actually are or how strong its gravitational pull, Dougall points up at the sky to admire celestial bodies from afar. The gossamer synths draw out most of the song’s sense of cosmic grandeur and curiosity while her voice stays low-key, raising exactly once and only once. But whether it’s that sudden jump giving the song a subtle yet effective hook or how she awes at the sweet sounds of the titular word, her state of down-to-earth reserve makes me appreciate the small things.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: There’s probably some critical syzygy that can map, perfectly, Rose Elinor Dougall and Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s respective shifting alignments with rock and dance. While you work that out, I’ll be here, whisked alongside the ambivalent narrator into someone’s gravitational field: a star that looks like a pinprick (key to the lyric, I think, is that it’s a small star) until you’re swept up by it. The metaphor’s been done before, and so has love, but both retain awe. What’s “you’re giving yourself away again” to a cosmic force?
[9]

Cédric Le Merrer: Solo ex-Pipette makes modern space pop isn’t a shocker at this point, of course. But this time I get the lyrics, and they seem to aim for comforting and confidence-boosting. At this point it’s a cliché to point out how awful 2016 was and how worse 2017 will probably be, but will the psychedelic be the comforting escape from it all we need? I kind of get the appeal of the surrealist, of the lysergic and of, basically, drugs in the face of absurdity. But we’re going to need much stronger doses than that.
[6]

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

Blackpink – Playing With Fire

While others get burned…


[Video][Website]
[5.60]

Iain Mew: Sometimes you can make a sparkling new pop song that does interesting things with piano and misleading tempo and has neat rapping, and it just doesn’t appeal as much as the one that sounds like it could be a years old ballad by your soon-to-be-disbanded predecessors. It just happens.
[6]

Jessica Doyle: Apparently YG wasn’t kidding when he decided to rebrand Blackpink as the “pretty” version of 2NE1: even some of the shots in the video are recycled. (Compare Rosé at 1:35 and Lisa at 3:15 to Park Bom and Minzy, respectively, in 2012’s “I Love You.”) It’s disappointing enough, after the smarts of “Whistle” and the energy of “Boombayah,” that this feels so tepid: everyone (especially Jennie) seems so preoccupied with projecting cool and keeping their voices steady that the vocals come off as passionless, and there’s not enough going on in the background to overcome that. But “Playing with Fire” looks even weaker as the potential sign of a new strategy: Blackpink’s future as someone else’s past.
[3]

Alfred Soto: The bass throb and “look at me now!” hook evokes early-2000s J. Lo, and there’s no question that any song afire with a flame metaphor will send listeners into disco inferno (unless written by Scissor Sisters). 
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Neatly answers the question “what would it sound like if Fifth Harmony did ‘Same Old Love'”: more vocalists, more strut, still not much of a hook.
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: Just when I thought Blackpink overdid it with their styling in “Whistle,” I now miss its sass. Lisa plays the brash voice and a needed punch in the gut, though she’s not enough to raise its middling rock.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: Defiantly midtempo K-pop that plods along and doesn’t seem to go anywhere.
[4]

Leonel Manzanares: I’m marveled by the beat — it moves in several swing/shuffle groove variations without ever losing that mid-tempo riddim fluidity — and the way the low end is used to manage the space is exquisite. Yes, producer Teddy is using Blackpink to continue where he left off with 2NE1, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do that, and in “Playing with Fire” he did not miss. The diversity in the girls’ voices remains a strong factor, and the production knows it. And come on, can you resist Jennie’s heavy, extra-breathy first verse? I think I’ve found my bias. 
[7]

Adaora Ede: A flashy take on chopped-n-screwed, “Playing With Fire” meshes ravey-style maximalism with minuscule acoustic elements, dumps more moonbahton-ish sound over that, and washes out a pretty detuned piano interlude into synth breaks. So much for it, because that’s not what Blackpink wants the listener to remember. There’s a low-key vintage vibe, aided greatly by aforementioned piano, and fearless vocalwork — even when it falls flat on Lisa’s part, serving not much more than drabber CL x GD vibes (hmmmm). And it demonstrates the skill it takes in adapting foreign dance genres for a trendy pop single (hmmmmmmm), which is most likely not a reach from what YG wants for their revamped 2NE1.
[7]

Madeleine Lee: Having actually mistaken both “Whistle” and “Boombayah” for ersatz 2NE1 when hearing them in public, I’m humbled that “Playing With Fire” is such a tune, a solidly written, uncontrived melody that shows off every member to her advantage (even Jisoo) and that fits in with the K-pop of 2016, not an idea of a YG girl group that’s frozen in 2011. I wish I could say that this indicates a bright future ahead of them, but in the wake of 2NE1’s decay and YG’s continuous neglect of its younger talent, I’m not so sure.
[8]

Ramzi Awn: Though not completely boring, “Playing With Fire” plays it basic — unfortunately, it goes in one ear and out the other. 
[4]

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

A Tribe Called Quest – We the People….

…in order to form a more perfect leaderboard…


[Video][Website]
[8.43]

Joshua Copperman: I hadn’t listened to A Tribe Called Quest at all before hearing Thank You 4 Your Service in full. I don’t know why I’ve been missing out, because I needed this; even the power of Lemonade has worn off at this point, as well as any other critically acclaimed blockbuster to come from this year — most of those albums now seem frozen in time. Meanwhile, this album, especially “We the People,” is for right now, and for the next four years. “We the People” comes at exactly the right time, the perfect soundtrack to begin the terrifyingly uncertain Trump era. The anger, in particular, is palpable here, in both the rough, edgy beat and the expressionless delivery of the chorus. The tone feels especially urgent because when the band started work on the album, I’m not sure anyone involved wanted it to appear at such a heavy moment. There’s an alternate scenario where the album came out with the foregone conclusion of a Clinton presidency, and perhaps another one with Phife Dawg (who delivers an excellent verse) living to see the release. Maybe either album is more of a celebration than the emotionally charged one we got. But perhaps they knew what was about to happen to America when they recorded this a year and a half ago — not dissimilar to Dave Chapelle’s sobering SNL skit, they understood the nightmare that the rest of the country, myself included, is only starting to understand. It’s not much of a fair compensation, but instead of those alternate scenarios, we got a song and album that shows why indifference and passivity are not options, and why protest music is not futile, but more necessary than ever. 
[8]

Alfred Soto: I was in tears when that squirrelly burr joined the snare in the first forty seconds. On point, Tip? All the time. Seizing a historical moment that threatened to flatter them as much as us, Q-Tip and Jarobi write a classic up-with-people anthem that recontexualizes the dead Phife Dawg as a voice of cross-cultural protest.
[10]

Thomas Inskeep: This should by no rights be this fucking great. Credit especially Q-Tip, not just rhyming like our lives depend on it, but also in the producer’s chair. And credit Tribe altogether for knowing that this was precisely when we needed them back.
[9]

Will Adams: The mixing may be questionable, but the message is essential.
[7]

Ramzi Awn: Tribe is on time and ready to spin. They make it sound easy. 
[8]

Edward Okulicz: The buzzy bass and minimal beat, not to mention the use of silence and sound effects like sirens, are perfect for a call to arms. Claiming “we the people” on behalf of those assumed to be trying to usurp the natural order of the Rich Straight White Man having all the rights and power is so powerful in Tribe’s hands and rhymes. Hearing the lyrics rattle off a list of the underclasses — black, Mexican, poor, Muslim, gay, you name it — reminds me that the new majority of minorities will eventually win everywhere. At a time when liberalism feels confused and moribund, this song is such a tonic.
[9]

Tim de Reuse: Mercifully, these guys don’t sound like they’ve been on hiatus for almost twenty years — the performances are tight, the production is fuzzy and full, and it’s just snappy and energetic enough to feel genuine rather than heavyhanded. I mean, on first listen, I thought the directness of the verses might end up overcooked and awkward, but I kept listening — maybe I really wanted/needed to hear those first two lines. There’s a particular resonance between the phrase “We don’t need you” and the chorus, delivered by Q-Tip in an ominous singsong from the other side of the power dynamic (“All you Black folks, you must go…”) that imparts a kind of infectious defiance, which isn’t really how I wanted my 2016 to end — but this is probably as realistic and positive a message as we’re gonna get, huh? 
[8]