…in order to form a more perfect leaderboard…
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.
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?