Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

A Tribe Called Quest – We the People….

…in order to form a more perfect leaderboard…


Hannah Jocelyn: 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. 

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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? 

Reader average: [8.22] (18 votes)

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13 Responses to “A Tribe Called Quest – We the People….”

  1. Actually terrible…not music

  2. I have to admit I find it really weird that there’s now a bunch of 20somethings (or younger?) posting on this site who don’t seem very curious about the history of pop music, at least based on all the admissions of not having heard of/listened to this or that completely canonical musician (here, Tribe Called Quest, elsewhere, Al Green, and on and on). It seems like seeking to gain some historical perspective on contemporary pop music would be a top priority for a curious writer about same. I don’t mean this to be a “kids these days…” post because I wouldn’t presume to draw a larger lesson from a small sample. But I just wanted to register my reaction.

  3. I haven’t seen any young critic reveling in ignorance; on the contrary, like Josh, they’re admitting the lacuna in their knowledge and curious to hear more.

  4. it doesn’t seem as if you find it “really weird” at all, it seems as if it completely confirms your preconceptions

  5. No, it doesn’t confirm any preconceptions at all. Some of the teenagers and 20somethings I’ve met in recent years have a lot more knowledge about music from eras prior to their birth than I did at their age. So I wouldn’t make any generational generalizations (ha!) at all, just as I wrote above. My observation is more specific: It surprises me that someone who writes for this site would not have known any music by Tribe Called Quest… or a number of a few other extremely well-known acts who Singles Jukebox critics have confessed ignorance of in recent years. I agree that it’s a good thing to admit to such lacunae, but I’m surprised they’re there in the first place– among this particular cadre, in any case.

    Katherine — why would you suppose I have certain preconceptions if you don’t know me and I indicate the very opposite thing in my post? You’re not obligated to give me the time of day, but your interpretation of my post seems needlessly uncharitable.

  6. Critics aren’t shamen. They’re listeners just like you. I hadn’t heard any Zep until it was 25.

  7. I agree that a sort of cultural gap would be a big problem for a critic…if there was only one critic reviewing this song. The glory of TSJ is that you’re given a wide variety of critical viewpoints, from someone who is hearing a canon artist for the first time, several decades into their career, to someone who has their catalog practically memorized. If medium familiarity with every “extremely well-known” artist was the only criteria for criticism we could just stop with the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll.

  8. what’s a beatle

  9. Because if you are alive and possess the capability to read and hear in 2016, you will by now have experienced thousands of examples of people telling young writers, explicitly or implicitly, how much they suck and how much worse they are than everyone else.

  10. (Incidentally, if I have ever edited you and removed a reference to whether you’ve heard an artist before, this is why: to spare you handwringing like the above.)

  11. *HRC voice* Woo, okay!

    “No, it doesn’t confirm any preconceptions at all. Some of the teenagers and 20somethings I’ve met in recent years have a lot more knowledge about music from eras prior to their birth than I did at their age.”

    That’s definitely thanks to Spotify and other streaming services, where all albums are basically just a curious search away. But the sheer amount of music that can be accessed is often overwhelming, so certain things that many consider required listening might fall by the wayside.

  12. I knew enough about ATCQ beforehand to know that they were important to understanding today’s rap music; I just felt like if I was ever going to listen to them, it couldn’t just be a cursory “hm, this sounds interesting” kind of deal.

    I decided that this album would be my introduction well before TSJ decided to cover it, and this song alone moved me enough that regardless of my prior knowledge, I was able to write nearly three hundred words about it. Megan has it right – I feel comfortable admitting my ignorance because there are enough perspectives to balance mine out. And both the novice and the experts have a place, especially when it comes to something made both for longtime fans and people like me who weren’t even alive yet when their (allegedly) best work was released.

  13. For a critic, curiosity about the contemporary is as valuable as curiosity about history, particularly when what’s posited to be curiosity about history is really a demand that the newest youth pay due reverence to the institutions of the past. I’m in my thirties and love Midnight Marauders and Low End Theory, but I want to hear from people who don’t care about those records, or know their history but know it through different artists from that period that we might not talk about.

    There are so many records out there. Critics shouldn’t be expected to hear them all before we start staking out our own territory. We learn as we write, and we keep on learning. We should be honest about that; it’s how it should be.