One of the first hip hop albums I bought was People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, and so began the interweaving of beats and rhymes into the soundtrack for my life. Q-Tip is in my GOAT list, and I think when Phife died it was the first time I felt genuine grief for the loss of someone I never met, because the Tribe have been in my headphones, my head and my heart for the last 26 years.
But posthumous releases are always a worry. Surely if people had good stuff in the can they’d have released it, right? This cashing in on the reputations of the dead is just taking advantage of idiots like me, right?
I am absolutely certain that there are going to be a slew of purists ready to start bitchin’ and complaining but don’t listen to them they’re just showing off. Those people will be like the hip hop version of the supercilious acne pocked indie-boy you dated in sixth form who hated any band as soon as anyone else had heard of them. Ignore them and go get this record and use it sooth your frazzled nerves in this post-election world we’ve found ourselves in.
This is the first album I’ve played straight through over and over again on day one since Malibu from Anderson Paak (who guests on Movin Backwards) and the first hip hop album in god knows how long. Seriously. Three or four tracks on De La’s last album are on rotation but there’s a load of tracks there that don’t feature on my shuffle playlist. I was convinced that each track I heard here was the best – until the next.
Yeah I’m a fan girl, but I’m also a pretty picky and fickle listener and it takes a lot to blow me away. On this album, you will get everything you love about ATCQ. Disc One kicks off with The Space Programme which is vintage Tribe; those familiar voices and the head-nodding interplay between Tip, Phife and, pleased to say, Jarobi, over an Ali Shaheed Mohammed beat with whispering musical allusions to songs we have known and loved before. I defy you not to feel the poignancy in Phife’s exhortation for us to make something happen, to get it together for brothers, for sisters, for mothers and fathers …… and dead niggers. The album avoids the temptation to wallow in the loss of the five-foot assassin; Lost Somebody is a fitting, and moving, tribute that is heartfelt but kept sharp by a sparse snare and stripped one-fingered piano looping through the layered vocal.
But this isn’t all about the past, because true musical greats move us forward and grow, and there’s lots of moments here that will surprise you. Solid Wall of Sound draws on the lush Phil Spector production style that the name suggests and makes you look at Elton John with a renewed respect. The guests on this are not here just to bolster the credits list – each one brings gifts to the party. Busta Rhymes never fails when he guests and delivers classic swag on, but the near ubiquitous Paak and Kendrick Lamaar slots deserve special mention.
One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Tribe is how they can deliver lyrics about doing the nasty that aren’t, well, nasty. “Enough!” is a fine example.
There’s also real edge here. We don’t live in the daisy age anymore and whilst there’s the humour and lightness of touch there’s also righteous anger. The Killing Season, and We The People are essential listening.
This is sonic medicine for the soul and the silver lining under the clouds we’ve been shrouded by in this truly terrible year.
Thanks Tip, thanks Shaheed, thanks Jarobi. Rest in Power Phife.