Top 19 of the 2010s: Number 12

So I didn’t complete the list by the end of 2019?  I knew I wouldn’t.  I’m still going to finish.  Catch up on anything you missed in the Top 19 countdown by clicking the links below:

#19: New Amerykah Pt. 2 – Erykah Badu

#18: Lemonade – Beyonce

#17: Laila’s Wisdom – Rapsody

#16: Lonerism – Tame Impala

#15: Choose Your Weapon – Hiatus Kaiyote

#14: Ventura – Anderson .Paak

#13: Stone Rollin’ – Raphael Saadiq

#12: We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service – A Tribe Called Quest

A Tribe Called Quest.  They’re not just hip hop royalty, they’re the upper echelon.  Best of the best.  If there’s a hip hop Hall of Fame they should be in the first class.  I think I was in 8th grade when I heard People’s Instinctive Travels… for the first time and it was literally like nothing I’d ever heard before…or since, in retrospect.  How do you describe “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” or “Bonita Applebum” or even “Ham and Eggs” to the uninformed?  Were there people in the club waving their hands and singing “I don’t eat no ham and eggs cuz they’re high in cholesterol” in 1990?  If so, I wish I had been there.  The Low End Theory is one of my favorite hip hop albums ever and that’s not hyperbole.  Midnight Marauders is not far behind.  Beats, Rhymes, and Life and The Love Movement were victims of the group’s earlier success.  Not as beloved, but still great albums that are now actually underrated.

Then around 2000 Tribe vanished.  They all stayed busy, but the band itself was done like so many others who have remained in rotation for me despite their lack of output.  Digable Planets.  Outkast.  Fugees.  De La.  Tone Loc.  Kid ‘n Play.  OK, maybe not all of them.

After 15 years of will they/won’t they rumors, a depressing documentary that highlighted their dysfunction, a memorable performance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and occasional reunion concerts tragedy struck that seemed to confirm that we’d never hear from Tribe again.

March 22, 2016.  I was in Florida on spring break with my family when the news came across my phone that Malik Taylor – better known as Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest- had passed away from complications with his diabetes.  He had struggled publicly with diabetes for as long as I could remember.  He dropped the classic line, “When’s the last time you heard a funky diabetic,” on 1993’s “Oh My God” which happens to be one of my favorite Tribe tracks.

It was one of those celebrity deaths that felt like I lost someone I actually knew.  Phife Dawg.  One of the great hip hop wordsmiths.  Insane flow.  Truly laugh out loud funny.  “I like my beats hard like two day old shit.”  There can’t be another Tribe album after Phife.  Q-Tip might have been my favorite MC of the two, but Phife was the soul of the group.  In a way it was a relief to know that there wouldn’t be any new Tribe music.  I didn’t want them putting out a bad album and tarnishing the legacy.

Then Tip dropped the news: Tribe had been working on another album.  They had actual songs they had written and performed together before Phife passed.  Not just random verses Phife had recorded over the years that they pieced together with some beats to make one last dollar off of his old, discarded rhymes.  Actual new shit Tribe secretly worked on.  It would be their final album and would be released on November 11, 2016.

It’s hard to explain or overstate what A Tribe Called Quest means to me.  My brother brought me The Low End Theory CD on a trip home from college while I was in high school and it was one of the first albums I ever heard that I thought was speaking directly to me.  It was like someone explored my soul a subconscious and created the album of my dreams.  I have listened to and absorbed their music for so long I feel like it’s embedded in my DNA.  “Back in the day when I was a teenager before I had status and before I had a pager you could find the abstract listening to hip hop…”  When their old music means that much to me and I hear they’re releasing new music for the first time in 17 years I get nervous.  Are they fucking with their legacy?  Why do I care about legacy anyway?  It’s their legacy, not mine.  They’re (relatively) old men now.  Do I want to hear Tribe as old guys?  I’m an old guy now.  Will it feel as special as it used to?  Does anything feel as special as it used to?  Like D’Angelo sang on “Back to the Future (Part I)”, “I used to get real high.  Now I just get a buzz.”  I wasn’t sure Tribe could still do it.

I got my answer.  Tribe doesn’t age.  We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service is better than I imagined.  Tip is still Tip.  Phife still sounded the same.  Jacobi was back!  Busta was contributing more than ever.  Ali Shaheed and whoever else did the music killed it.  They got assists from some of my favorites like Anderson .Paak, Talib Kweli, Andre 3000, and Kendrick Lamar.  They didn’t hurt their legacy, they solidified it.  Reminded everyone who forgot just how great they are.

Purely by coincidence, 2016 was a special year for me musically.  Vince Staples’ Prima Donna EP.  De La Soul’s and the Anonymous Nobody.  Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love.  Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic.  Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book.  NxWorries’ Yes, Lawd!  Anderson .Paak’s Malibu.  It was one of the best calendar years of my life for new music.  We got it from Here… belongs near the top of that list.  A more than worthy entry in to the Tribe catalog and an appropriate end to one of the greatest groups ever.

Rest in peace, Phife Dawg.

Awards time:

Favorite Song

So many options here.  “Melatonin” is the first track that comes to mind for me, but it’s a Q-Tip solo track, and considering the contributions of so many on this album it doesn’t seem right to call a song featuring only one rapper my favorite.  “We the People…” is such a badass anthem and perfect for the time.  Ultimately my choice is Dis Generation.  Q-Tip, Phife, Jacobi, and Busta all playing off of each other.  Rarely do you hear hip hop like this anymore.  Four guys sharing and trading bars, transitioning seamlessly from one to the next.  Feels like the early-90’s again.

Favorite Lyric

On an album loaded with amazing lyrics, the most powerful stuff comes from Q-Tip on the second track, We The People:

We don’t believe you ’cause we the people
Are still here in the rear, ayo, we don’t need you
You in the killing-off-good-young-n***a mood
When we get hungry we eat the same fucking food
The ramen noodle
Your simple voodoo is so maniacal
We’re liable to pull a juju
The irony is that this bad bitch in my lap
She don’t love me, she make money, she don’t study that
She gon’ give it to me, ain’t gon’ tell me run it back
She gon’ take the brain to wetter plains, she spit on that
The doors have signs with, don’t try to rhyme with
VH1 has a show that you can waste your time with
Guilty pleasures take the edge off reality
And for a salary I’d probably do that shit sporadically
The OG Gucci boots are smitten with iguanas
The IRS piranha see a n***a gettin’ commas
N***as in the hood living in a fishbowl
Gentrify here, now it’s not a shithole
Trendsetter, I know, my shit’s cold
Ain’t settling because I ain’t so bold but ay
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

What’s crazy about these lyrics is that this was written pre-Trump.  “Gentrify here now it’s not a shithole,” was not a reaction to Trump’s shithole comment.  It was prophecy.  Tribe performed this song on the now legendary Dave Chappelle episode of Saturday Night Live that aired four days after Trump was elected.  A perfect soundtrack and a powerful moment.

Favorite Slow Jam/Chill Song

The short answer is that there isn’t one.  This is not a chill album.  Since I have to choose one I’m going to pick Enough!! This song has a laid back beat and vocals.  More importantly it contains a sample of “Bonita Applebum” from Tribe’s first album.  One of the greatest hip hop slow jams ever recorded.

Ring Walk Song

I’ll also give this award to “We The People…”  The beat is great and they drop lyrics like, “When we get hungry we eat the same fucking food.”  This song gets me pumped up.

Favorite Happy Song

Difficult category since this isn’t really a happy album.  Can I pass?  This is my website.  You know what?  I pass.

Song I’d Play if I Was DJing

This is also not an album loaded with club shit.  I’ll change it up here and nominate Movin Backwards.  Mainly I just wanted an excuse to mention Anderson .Paak and he appears on this track.  Like the line “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” in Star Wars, I’m required to mention my guy Anderson .Paak in every column I write regardless of topic.  I can fit .Paak’s name in to a deer hunting column if I have to.  I’m relieved I was able to fit him in here.

6th Man Award

It’s Jarobi White.  Jarobi was present on Tribe’s first album, then left the group to become a chef.  For most of the next four Tribe albums Q-Tip and Phife carried all the weight vocally aside from a few guest appearances, mostly by other members of the Native Tongues like Busta or De La.  When Phife passed away someone would need to pick up some of the workload left in his absence.  Tip couldn’t carry an entire Tribe album alone.  It might as well be a Q-Tip solo album.  Enter Jarobi.  When it was announced before the album was released that Jarobi would be returning my response was, “Cool.  Can he rap?”  It had been a long time.  Jarobi more than carries his share of the load next to all-time greats like Q-Tip and Busta Rhymes.  His comeback was one of the many bright spots on this amazing album.

I’m working on a collaboration about A Tribe Called Quest with another writer that will appear on mookiefantana.com in the near future, so I’m going to end this here.  I’m glad Tribe was able to release a proper farewell album.  One of the best albums of 2016, but not the last one you’ll see on this list.  Next on the list at number 11 is an album from one of my favorite, most consistent artists of the decade.  She I didn’t personally discover her until 2013-2014, but once I hear her music I became an instant fan.  More on that soon…

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