A Tribe Called Quest is one of my favorite hip-hop groups of all time. As a teenager who loved jazz, grew up listening to Nas and Mobb Deep, and had recently started listening to Common, discovering the Tribe’s music during the time that they were broken up was awesome yet sad at the same time, because at that moment, there was no chance that they were getting back together. What gravitated me towards the Tribe, other than the people they have influenced and worked with, is that their music sits right in the middle of the hip-hop spectrum: it’s a balance of dope production and dope lyrics that are funny and full of trash talking but are also genuine and sometimes intellectual. They also have a way of honoring the past, appreciating the present, and acknowledging the future of hip-hop that a lot of artists struggle with. Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed, Jarobi, and Phife are students and innovators who don’t mind passing the torch.
When the news came out that they were releasing We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your service, I screamed with joy and found such a happy space because I would experience a Tribe album as it’s released. It also put me in a sad place because it’s the Tribe’s last album and Phife Dawg isn’t here physically to experience this union with us. But, even though Phife’s physical body isn’t here to celebrate this new album with us, his spirit is still so present. Just as “God lives through,” Phife lives through this album. Brotherhood, love, life, and good music make way to such an introspective and beautiful tribute to the fallen Tribe member. From listening to the album and reading about the album’s creation, I want to share three lessons I learned that creatives may appreciate from the album:
Time is what you make of it.
From an interview that the members of Tribe did with Toure for the New York Times, Q-Tip said that he didn’t feel comfortable in doing another ATCQ album because of how people viewed him in relation to the group. But, after their performance of “Can I Kick It” on Jimmy Fallon last year, Tip decided that he wanted to work on another Tribe album after not working with the group for over fifteen years. Even though the guys worked with Phife for only a few months before he passed away, they were able to put together an album. So, even though we don’t have Phife here to celebrate the album’s release and their reunion was short lived, time, no matter how long or short it seems, is what you make of it. A great use of time always makes whatever you work on worthwhile.
If a sound works for you, even if it feels somewhat dated, make it sound relevant again.
I’m sure that the Tribe didn’t want to have production that sounded exactly like their previous albums, but some of those influences came back in We got it from Here, especially in the samples and former collaborators they used throughout the album. We heard a lot of old Tribe elements but felt a lot of Q-Tip’s eclectic influences that we’ve heard on his solo projects on the album. That’s what made me a fan of the Tribe as well as a lot of hip-hop production: the ability to pull from the past and make it sound current. Songs like “The Space Program,” “Whateva Will Be,” “Mobius,” “Black Spasmodic,” and “The Donald” have old Tribe elements that sound new and current. These are examples of how important it is to use a formula that’s known to make you happy as a creative and that continually works.
Build and create with the people you love and respect.
Q-Tip and Phife were childhood friends who created music and made money together but then fell out over public perception and fame. Yet, after almost two decades, Phife and Q-Tip made amends and worked together on an album that became the last thing that they worked on together. Tip mentioned in the Toure interview that they were in such a great space during the last few months of Phife’s life and you can feel it in the music. This also includes hearing Ali Shaheed, Jarobi, Busta Rhymes and Consequence on the project (who all felt the same way), as well as the people that were influenced by the group. When you create with the people you love and respect, you’ll continue to create and love what you do. It’s never too late to work with someone, and, in this situation, to mend relationships.
If you like (or dislike) the album, learned anything from it or if it reinforced anything for you as a music creative, let me know in the comments or over on Twitter. Make sure to check out the newsletter that sparked this blog post and subscribe to Transcending Sound’s newsletter to read more.