A Trump Called Quest: Please Explain

This isn’t a political article.  But I’ll talk about politics.  I’m not one to post much about politics on social media and I’m not the person to talk about politics when I’m drunk.  If anything, I try to steer people away from throwing verbal punches after a gut full of piss.  Contrary to this, I am a political person, one who followed the U.S Presidential Election longer than most meme-posting, internet soldiers who repost political propaganda without any knowledge of its meaning.  I see this shit online and hold my tongue, usually throwing my phone in anger though.  I don’t bite, because politics can ruin relationships; a lesson Dad told me early.  Instead, I calm myself down with music depending on the mood.  If I’m really riled up I’ll throw on a bit of punk rock, maybe some Black Flag, or I’ll put on some folk music from the anarchist days; a bit of Bob Dylan or Neil Young.

Politics and social injustices tends to ooze into contemporary music, whether it’s a protest song against war or a rap group preaching about the injustices and segregation in their community.  Protest and peace anthems aren’t as prolific as they used to be, when we compare to, let’s say, the Vietnam War.  We had the likes of Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind, John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance or Imagine, and bringing it back home we had Red Gum’s I Was Only 19.  These anthems, and music in general, has been able to capture an event or an emotion and project that onto the listener, instilling a feeling of belonging or protest.  Prophets of Rage did this earlier in the year.  The group consisting of members from Rage Against the Machine, Cyprus Hill and Public Enemy united this year to tour around the States to try and conjure an anarchist emotion within diehard fans and the younger crowds.  Yeah, so it was cool at the start to have majority of the Rage members back on stage, but I feel their movement ignited early and they couldn’t keep up the momentum.  In fairness, I never went to a gig but I did hear the few singles they released.  They were mediocre.  If that’s the sort of protest songs that these music legends can conjure up, then of course their country is fucked.  Their movement was labelled as aggressive, which is cool and all, but playing the same old songs every night seems more of a glorified super-group tour than a political stance.  The leader of the group, Tom Morello, even openly admitted to not supporting either Trump or Clinton.  It’s a bit difficult to get behind a movement whose leader opposes both the primary candidates.  Especially in an election where every vote mattered, but even don’t get me started on America’s voting laws. Or lack of.

Some people think it’s odd to care so much about an election that didn’t occur in Australia.  Well, my hypothetical response would be you’d have to be an idiot for not caring about whether or not Donald Trump becomes the President of the most powerful country in the world. But I would never say that, of course.  And it’s not just this election I followed.  The recent Australian election – you know, the one where we didn’t know who won for weeks – had me interested just as much.  Well, maybe not as much, but I still kept my eye on the news.  Especially since Pauline Hanson was granted another reign once the votes were counted.  Hanson recently just announced her delight with the outcome of the American election, in an almost allegiance to a man who publicly shamed his female opponent and was found to allegedly assault women.  But that’s just locker room talk.  I could start talking about how the rise of these two powers relates to a rising presence of fear in the world, but that’s not the point of this article.  Trump’s power frightens many people in the world, but specifically to the minorities who live in the States.  And Trump’s power also enrages people, specifically those who voted for Clinton who won the public vote.  It’s safe to say that there’s unrest in the world, an unrest that divides communities and it’s the perfect time for one of the best rap groups to make a humble return.

A Tribe Called Quest’s latest album We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service was released days after Trump won the election.  For those unfamiliar with Tribe, they were a significant hip-hop group in the 90s, in an era of gangsta rap, big cash-money-green in the industry and social issues clouding the African-American community.  A Tribe Called Quest were easily the most intelligent on the scene.  They were intelligent in their views, in their rhymes and in their beats; sharing their humble ideas on politics and various issues in the black community.  They steered away from the more aggressive beats that plagued the 90s and leant heavily on jazz and funk music to carry their rhymes.  Tracks such as Youthful Expression and Description of a Fool on their first album discuss both politics and sexual abuse.  This album came out in 1990, and those themes unfortunately still hold true in 2016, especially since the President-Elect dabbles in both.

Hanson recently just announced her delight with the outcome of the American election, in an almost allegiance to a man who publicly shamed his female opponent and was found to allegedly assault women.

Tribe’s latest album begins with Space Program.  A sample of some movie I don’t know plays, someone says “we’ve got to get our shit together” followed by a jazzy piano melody.  And just like that, A Tribe Called Quest are back.  Though they are missing founding member Phife Dawg, some tracks still feature the late rapper.  Space Program continues as Q-Tip asks “Imagine for a second all the people are coloured, please. Imagine for a second all the people in poverty. No matter the skin tone, culture or time zone. Think the ones who got it would even think to throw you a bone? Move you out your neighbourhood, did they find you a home?”

You know how I said we don’t have many protest anthems anymore?  Well, Tribe’s second song on the album gives me hope.  We the People… (which Tribe recently performed live on SNL) preaches about the claims that made Trump so popular, so early.  A police siren blares in the background of the deep bass riff; the song features Phife Dawg, though it’s Q-Tip who brings the heat in the chorus.  “All you Black folks, you must go.  All you Mexicans, you must go.  And all you poor folks, you must go.  Muslims and gays, boy, we hate your ways.  So all you bad folks, you must go.” No other rap group could be so blunt, so relevant, and still come across with a solid sound reminiscent of their glory days.

The album continues, touching on common themes that Tribe have discussed in the past.  In the Killing Season, rapper Consequence spits “Presidents get impeached and others fill in the throne
But veterans don’t get the benefit of feelin’ at home”
while Kanye refrains “they sold ya, sold ya, sold ya” which ends up sounding a lot like “they sold your soul, soldier”.  And knowing Tribe, I don’t think that’s a coincidence.  The end song is named The Donald, which according to Anthony Fantano has a double meaning to it: both a tribute to Phife Dawg ‘Don Juice’ and the obvious Donald Trump.  The song acts as a tribute to Phife, which is juxtaposed nicely against the assumption the title is named after Trump.  Q-Tip and Busta Rhymes poetically converse about what made Phife so great, “we gon’ celebrate him, elevate him, papa had to levitate him.  Give him his and don’t debate him.  Top dog is the way to rate him.” Quite different to what Tribe would rhyme about if it was about Trump.

Tribe’s political views are the most blunt throughout Conrad Tokyo (ft. Kendrick Lamar).  Phife spits, “CNN and all this shit, gwaan yo, move with the fuckery.  Trump and the SNL hilarity.  Troublesome times kid, no times for comedy.  Blood clot, you doing, bullshit you spewing.  As if this country ain’t already ruined.”  The blood clot obviously alluding to Trump, and though clots might be healthy and lifesaving if someone is bleeding out, I doubt that’s what Tribe meant in the lyric.  I assume it’s the clotting that might lead to a heart attack or stroke.  And contrary to what Americans believe, the United States isn’t bleeding out; it’s still the world’s biggest super power.  Yes, Mexicans might be flooding in and taking jobs, but America isn’t the only country with an immigrant issue.  There’s better ways to deal with the issue, rather than build a wall.

This album came out at exactly the right time.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence either.  The world needed this album – it’s not an aggressive, politically violent record.  It’s a smart, triumphant record that, instead, discusses topics rather than asks questions to rile the listener up.  The music that carries Tribe’s lyrics is both nostalgic to their 90s discography as well as being contemporary and challenging; they go against the grain of modern rap just like they did in the 90s.  It speaks to much more than just Americans in this troubled post-election time.  It speaks to Australia, whose far right political parties stir the pot with their views on immigration, homosexuality and race.  It speaks to Britain and Europeans during their migrant crisis.  And it will speak to people ten years from now when the next great social debate will start.  Or maybe this argument will still be going in ten years.  In that case, we’re fucked.

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