The Ab is the abbreviated name of The Abstract Poetic, another fly pseudonym for the player more widely known as Q-Tip, the leader of A Tribe Called Quest. We work together on Apple Music’s Beats 1. He spins and I announce. We’ve got chemistry that we’ve developed over a period of nearly thirty year’s time.
He called yesterday. Hearing from him is not the most unusual occurrence in and of itself, but he’s been busy lately – mad busy. Monday he and his fellow band mates shot a video, Wednesday night they had a listening party in Queens, and yesterday he was rehearsing for an appearance in support of Dave Chapelle’s first shot at hosting Saturday Night Live. The SNL gig jumps off tonight.
While he was on the phone, he had to pick up another call from Jonah Hill, and he’d already heard from Bradley Cooper. Rick Rubin texted his congratulations. Nas checked in, Alicia Keys and L Boogie checked in. Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Rev. Run of Run/DMC checked in. All of this uptick in activity and interaction with these film, comedy, soul and Hip Hop headliners has been prompted by yesterday’s release of the sixth and last album from A Tribe Called Quest “We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service,” the band’s first record in nearly twenty years. And the first one since the heartbreaking and sudden death of Tribe cofounder Phife Dawg, from complications due to Diabetes last spring.
“We Got it from Here… ” is on fire, and showing early signs of penetrating the public’s consciousness by receiving commercial acceptance in a way that is rare for records in these times. In an earlier era, you could easily track the success of a new release through radio air play and retail sales. Now, the online radio community, Soundcloud, You Tube, streaming, unauthorized downloading, file sharing and the rest have diminished the ability of record companies to quantify the success of their product. Even so, early indicators are that the record is already top ten in sales in eighteen countries (without the availability of a physical CD), and may possibly enter next week’s pop chart at number one. Epic Records chieftain and Black Pop overlord, L.A. Reid has got a left field smash with significant cultural importance on his hands.
The current political climate has upended the American status quo in a shockingly definitive fashion by unearthing an ugly underbelly of hatred that had been previously held in check. In an effort to reclaim economic and political power, working class whites and a large portion of voting Latinos elected an immature and bigoted political novice to the Oval Office. Blacks, Latinos with sounder political views, Muslims, women who want to maintain the right to choose, gays and people in need of affordable health care all feel less secure than we did at the beginning of the week. In uncertain times the need for solid, dependable ideas, concepts and institutions increases. A Tribe Called Quest is one of those durable brands that we can count on in times of distress to soothe our souls with the healing power of Black Love.
Yesterday at an impromptu retail pop-up promotion in New York’s Chinatown, a line of eager Tribe fans, that went totally around the block in both directions, and met itself at the beginning, began to form six hours before the doors opened. While attending the event, Tip encountered a young woman who was despondent about America’s recent choice for president. She confessed that she’d been considering suicide because of our national folly until she heard “We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service” and now she has the hope to go on.
The young fan is not the only one who has been feeling a little down lately. The record has been giving me life too. It’s dope, game changing and badly needed. I’ve been hearing bits and pieces of WGIFHTY4YS in various stages of completion for nearly a year. The intensity of the production and performances far outshines anything else in the marketplace right now – Tribe is playing chess while the rest of these kids are playing marbles.
When I visited Tip in September at his home in Soul City, he played a relatively complete version of the project for me over the course of three nights. The majority of the record was recorded in the Ab Lab in the basement of his crib. Based on that first night’s playback, I was so overwhelmed by what I heard that I had to excuse myself and go to sleep. I didn’t have the required stamina to hear that level of sophistication and fury. Subsequent listens inspired tears.
Sonically this record is somewhat undefinable but it is rooted more in a slick Pop/Funk thing that can only be described as the Q-Tip sound. He’s been digging in the crates where the rarest of grooves can be found, but has incorporated. a good deal of live playing that fits his overall concept well. With this record, Q-Tip, the master conceptualist, DJ and MC has stepped forward to the elite ranks of record producers working in music today.
They’re all on it. All the Tribesman; Tip, Busta Rhymes, Jarobi, Consequence, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Phife. A few friends helped out too; Andre 3000, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, Talib Kweli, Marsha Ambrosious, Jack White, Elton John and a new voice on the record’s tribute to better living through chemistry “Melatonin,” Abby Smith. The group addresses hot topics in the intellectually conscious, insightful, humorous and funky way that has made the band one of Hip Hop’s best of all time. Tip, Jarobi and Phife set the pace from track one on “Space Program,” a demand for the listener to wake up to the pervasiveness of the affects of wealth inequality among other things. Other standout tracks include ; “Whateva Will Be,” a proud display of human and lyrical identity; “Dis Generation,” a tight freestyle with pop potential; “Lost Somebody,” the tribute to a fallen comrade and the b-boy workouts; “Möbius” and “The Donald,” a couple of joints where Consequence, Busta, Phife and Tip rock steady.
It’s been a long journey from the beginning for Tribe. It’s been a path laden with success, disappointment, defeat, death, healing and triumph. A lot of life was lived in the eighteen years that passed in between now and their most recent record. We are reminded that creating great art requires sacrifice and pain. Without it there will be no joy. This record sounds like all of that took place and got poured into its creation. Those eighteen years were time well spent because this is the best Tribe record ever. Get one right away. You can thank me later.