A Tribe called Quest’s new album is a breath of fresh air in the stale halls of “new” hip hop.
For the last couple of years a dominant theme in US hip hop has been the emergence of trap music. Artists such as Future, Rich Homie Quan, Lil Uzi, Young Thug and others have been propelled into the limelight, and signed for millions, due to their categorisation as trap artists.
As a long-time listener to hip hop of all kinds, I am not a fan of trap music. It focuses on a combination of auto tuned hooks and a glorification of the most reactionary elements of rap and hip hop, whether that be pimping, homophobia, sexism, violence, guns or how much money the said rapper has made or is worth.
A Tribe Called Quest’s new album, thankfully, is devoid of auto tune and instead takes us back to the roots of hip hop. Crucially, it is a reminder that early hip hop was an art form that was made for and reflected the experiences of black working class Americans.
There is no doubt that the tumultuous state of American politics, from the Black Lives Matter movement to the election of Donald Trump, has shaped the content of this album.
A central theme is the connotations and stereotypes of being black in American society. For example, one lyric states: “Officer, I feel like my only crime is that my skin contains melatonin.”
The whole album, but especially tracks like “Black Spasmodic” and “Melatonin”, celebrates being black but also repeatedly references the daily struggle black Americans face against the racist institutions of society like the police and judiciary.
The last year has seen a series of political statements from popular figures in the US, including Kendrick Lamar’s angry album To Pimp a Butterfly, Beyonce’s performance at the Superbowl, American footballer Colin Kaepernick’s stance against police brutality and hip hop artist Killer Mike’s endorsement of Bernie Sanders.
We Got It from Here is another example of how the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement has pulled mainstream black artists into voicing their opposition to the racist institutions in the US, something that will surely become more necessary with the misogynist, racist homophobe Donald Trump in the White House.
This album is a must listen for hip hop fans tired of the new “trap” genre, but most importantly it is a clear reflection of the contradictions and position of being black in the US today.
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