DAR Hip Hop: Common's Black America Again & A Tribe Called Quest's We Got It From Here... Thank You For Your Service

Introduction By @SpeedOnTheBeat and @TrueGodImmortal 
-Hip hop is in an interesting state. While rappers mumble, make melodic autotuned songs, and just all around lackluster music, there are still artists putting forth their best every time they touch a music. For Common, the Chicago MC known for his catalog and conscious mind, he remains one of the most consistent rappers ever. Album after album, Common either reinvents himself or changes the style up so slightly to captivate the audience. As he prepared for his 11th album, many wondered what we get from the legendary MC. While we were gearing up for the Common release, we were shocked to learn of a new Tribe Called Quest album, their final release. When the fans became aware that this album was really happening, they went into a frenzy, as many couldn't believe that months after Phife passed away, Tribe would rise again. With both Common and Tribe releasing albums within a week of each other, it was a welcome change in the hip hop release spectrum. 
The Common and Tribe albums fill a void for the genre. No, I'm not going to go on a spiel about how hip-hop is missing that "real" and these albums are nothing but "that real." That just makes me sound all old and all "Fuck a Lil Yachty; he's not real music." Speedy Speed loves the new sounds...to a degree. But...if I were to get all "real" with it, it'd sound a bit like this.
Both of these albums give us something that we're not really getting a lot of in rap music these days. They're concise projects that showcase the best of forgotten eras that are slowly creeping their ways back in through new artistry. Nothing about either project sounds "stuck in the 90s/early 2000s", even when vibes are distinctly from that era of hip-hop. Overall, these albums are a perfect one-two for these trying times (and a perfect swan song for The Tribe). Let's get into these two magnificent November 2016 releases. 

*Common- Black America Again 

1. Joy and Peace 
2. Home 
3. Words From Moe Love Interlude 
4. Black America Again 
5. Lovestar 
6. On A Whim Interlude 
7. Red Wine 
8. Pyramids 
9. A Moment In The Sun Interlude 
10. Unfamiliar 
11. A Bigger Picture Called Free
12. The Day The Women Took Over 
13. Rain 
14. Little Chicago Boy
15. Letter To The Free 

Common never ceases to amaze me. He drops a classic every 5 or 6 years, and we were due for one. He delivers with Black America Again, a timely release given the state of affairs in this country right now. For me, the songs are rooted in melody, rhythm, and empowerment. The album is close to an instant classic on the first 10 listens, as I can play the album all the way through without skipping anything. My favorite songs are "Red Wine", "The Day The Women Took Over", "LoveStar", and "Letter To The Free". The production is majestic, the lyricism is top notch, and I have to applaud Common for putting this project together. 

Common comes back with his 11th LP. With the mood of the country and even the lack of substance being portrayed in rap, the timing was right. Now he's no stranger to this kind of content, but this was a more focused, more purposeful and politically engaged project with direct messages. He addressed multiple issues dealing with blackness. The unarmed killings of black boys & men, the unfair treatment of black women, the dirty water in Flint, Michigan, Jim Crow, gentrification, our mental and physical health and the unjust prison system. I'll discuss what I took from a few of my favorites.
This starts out with "Joy and Peace" which had some standout lines in it. Here are some of my favorites:
"All praise to the all eye seeing, supreme being/
Giver of joy and peace, love supreme freedom/ 
See him in the sun(son), see him in the daughters/
The mountains, the waters/ 
All divine order/"

"Niggas get foreign cars and think they made it/
It ain't yours till you create it/"

"Christ particle so anything is possible/ 
Fuck big brother, father mother God is watching you/"

To me, he was saying things aren't so bad, but things also aren't great and just because you have a little doesn't mean you cant have more. 
While Stevie Wonder brought so much soul on "Black America Again", there were so many lines that Common hit home with. Check out a few:

"Here we go again/
Trayvon will never get to be an older man/"

"Now were slaves to the blocks/ On em, we spray shots/
Leaving our own to lay in a box/Black mothers stomachs stay in a knot/ 
We kill each other is part of the plot/ 
I wish the hating would stop/"

"Instead of educate the rather convict the kids/
As dirty as the water in Flint, the system is/"

"Endangered in our own habitat/ Them guns and dope man, y'all can have it back/
As a matter fact/
We them lab rats/
You built the projects for now you want your hood back/"

"A man can't get himself together until he knows who he is and be proud of what he is and where he comes from"

I liked the fact that he brought up PTSD because I feel that and mental illness overall is an issue that people think blacks in America are exempt from growing up in certain conditions.

Now what's a Common album without a few love joints, right? 
"LoveStar" is a song that had me two stepping. It was dope when he said "When we need a break", and an old break beat instrumental came in, kind of giving a nice nod to hip hop. The voice fade into the celestial space sound was a nice ending. The same thing with "Unfamiliar", which was another song I loved, and that instrumental is addictive. For a love song, Common was very lyrical on it but it flowed so well.

"Pyramids" is the album's anthem to me. Common kind of gave a lyrical spanking while telling rappers to rap for the love of hip hop, be a student of the game, use your voice for something to inspire and educate the listeners. I caught subtle references of Big, Tribe, Public Enemy, The Roots & Kanye.
"A nigga told me he only rhymed for 19 year olds/
Nigga you should rhyme wherever the spirit goes/"

"Supreme wisdom in my system is the Kick In The Door"

"I dont rhyme for the sake of riddling though/
This a ritual for/
Those depicted as low/
Now I pass life like I've been here before/"

"Niggas rhyming like their whole style in retrograde"

I lost it when I heard Old Dirty come on the hook as well. It was super dope. 
"The Day The Women Took Over" is a great ode to women speaking on their current strides and if they actually ran the world. Some of the best lyrics on the song are as follows:
"It's more love songs on the radio/ 
Respect for the ladies you can hear it in the flow/"

"In all shapes and sizes, beauty is recognized/
Goddess and queens is what we use to describe/"

This song spoke on things I've thought about before like women holding the power to set standards a lot higher and change a lot of things in this world. He summed it up in one line that goes like this:
"Imagine it/
A world more compassionate/ 
The balance of the feminine & the masculine/
...I'm asking if/"

In addition to that, "Letter To The Free" had some deep visual lines as well, speaking intently on the plight we face. As follows:

"Southern leaves, southern trees, we hung from/
Barren souls, heroic songs unsung/"

"Pride of the pilgrims/
Affect lives of millions/
Slave days separating fathers from children/
Institution aint just a building/
But a method of having black and brown bodies fill them/"

"We staring in the face of hate again/
The same hate they say will make America great again/"

"No consolation prize for the dehumanized/ 
For America to rise/
It's a matter of black lives/"
This album was beautifully done. There's not a single song that I skipped. I like that it speaks to us, about us and not down on us. He didn't come off preachy or coonish while speaking on what the system in America has done, currently does to us and what we do to ourselves. This album is very reminiscent of Nas' Untitled (Ni**er) album, which also released in a very important (Obama) election year, with both being their most politically driven albums. What I admired about Untitled is what made me love this because it placed blame, spoke to the roots of the issues, spoke on us taking accountability and coming together. The production was perfect for Common and his lyrical skill was showcased at its finest. This album was angry, honest, powerful, proud, peaceful, hopeful, soulful, full of love, hip hop, unity and strength. Common is continuing to prove why he's one of the best by preserving hip hop's most respected element. 

Had someone asked me three months ago if I would ever look forward to a 2016 album release from high profile, known rappers, I would have laughed and immediately said “not a chance”, as too many rappers from the “golden era” released albums that ended up sounding like subpar and lackluster garbage passed off as “hip hop”. Fast forward a bit to mid October when I heard Common announced he’d be releasing a new album called “Black America Again” and just 10 days after, towards the end of October, A Tribe Called Quest announces that they too would be releasing an album “We Got It From Here..Thank You 4 Your Service”. I was beyond shocked and incredibly excited! Were the familiarities of the 90’s finally coming back?
On November 4th, Common’s album hit music platforms and within minutes it was trending (on Twitter). I was a bit nervous, as the last time I got excited over a “comeback” album, it was Jadakiss’ “Top 5 Dead Or Alive” and that was a total and utter let down, but I decided to give this a listen, and needless to say, “Black America Again” left me speechless. From album art and title, to tracklisting, it is Common through and through. He maintains his awareness of society’s current distress, police shootings, project housing, racism and he even manages to reference Christopher Columbus. As usual, he expresses his anger, frustration and insight in his rhythmic, poetic way. Amidst the harsh realties that are mentioned, Common also gives us heartwarming, sweet and sensitive tracks as well. I love and appreciate his voice, delivery, confidence and as much as I could listen to him rap infinitely, I do appreciate the perfectly chosen vocal accompaniments from track to track. We see Bilal featured on a few songs as well as appearances by John Legend, Stevie Wonder and a whole slew of other incredible artists. At first glance it might seem exhaustive, but Common is a genius and his production team is nothing short of brilliant so they made sure each vocalist serves as nothing more than to accentuate the song. This album is in true “golden era” form, but with the integration of current realities. 
As far as tracklist goes, I truly like them all, and in my opinion it’s nearly perfect. Where I find a bit of a let down is in “Rain” featuring John Legend, as I found myself anticipating Common’s verse and it almost seemed like forever before he appears. However on the flipside, “Love Star” is my absolute favorite and I think it’s the 2016 version of “The Light” and it captivates the very same way. I also love the title track and “Pyramids” (ODB’s voice was incredible and always a great addition). Common truly blessed the year with this release and served reality on a gold platter with the most incredible lyricism.

*A Tribe Called Quest- We Got It From Here... Thank You For Service 

Disc 1
1. The Space Program 
2. We The People....
3. Whateva Will Be
4. Solid Wall Of Sound 
5. Dis Generation 
6. Kids....
7. Melatonin 
8. Enough 

Disc 2 
1. Mobius 
2. Black Spasmodic 
3. The Killing Season 
4. Lost Somebody 
5. Movin Backwards 
6. Conrad Tokyo 
7. Ego 
8. The Donald

While still at a heightened level of excitement over Common’s release, just one week after, Tribe hits music platforms and their release becomes available. From the moment I heard an album was in the works I had been anticipating it. When Phife passed, that hit me pretty hard and in all honesty, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the album without Phife actually being around for the release. From their debut to their last studio release in 1998, Phife had so much involvement in the direction each album would go. “We Got It From Here….Thank You 4 Your Service” would be different, even the album art didn’t look completely “Tribe like” I have to admit, but once again I was proven wrong and pleasantly surprised. What this album had that the others didn’t, was Jarobi White spitting verses from track to track. This would be the only album with the (audible) involvement of each member. The featuring of Andre 3000, Elton John and Kendrick Lamar was incredible but not surprising. Tribe has always chosen the highest caliber in everything they do and these three artists maintain that. 
They team up with Busta Rhymes to bring back the familiarity of the 90’s they dominated so heavily. Again, well thought out and perfectly delivered. As far as tracklist goes, much like Common’s album, I absolutely love the majority of them but  “Lost Somebody” is my least favorite. The sound/sample/instrumental is too far left of the signature ATCQ sound I love so much. “Mobious”, “Kids”, “Movin Backwards”, “Dis Generation” and “Melatonin” are amongst my favorites, but the best part is ATCQ stays true to their Afrocentric focus and delivers another phenomenal project. As much as Phife’s void in the group and in the hip hop world is felt, his involvement in this album made it feel like he’s still right here. If there was ever the perfect way to make a final album, Tribe did it. This is phenomenal and such a highlight of the year.
Both Common and ATCQ somehow managed to make us 90’s rap fans believers in comeback albums with the quality we know we can expect from hip hop. These are two albums that will be regarded as classics and are gems amidst the current steady flow of lackluster and subpar releases.

I remember when I heard about the Tribe album, I was skeptical. Phife was gone, and I thought it was an album made from the loss and the pain that brought the brothers together again. However, the plans were already in motion for a new Tribe album months before Phife passed away and they sat down and came up with a plan. Phife is featured on a majority of the album, showcasing his trademark wit, but bringing more aggression and top tier lyricism throughout his appearances here. The real story of the album to me comes in the form of the renewed feeling that I get from Jarobi, Busta Rhymes, and Consequence. They all came with great rhymes and verses here, as Busta reminds us of the high energy Busta we all became fans of in the 90s. This album arrives technically as a double album, and both discs seem to flow very easily together. 
My only gripe with the album is that it sounds a bit too much like a Q-Tip album featuring the members of Tribe Called Quest instead a full on Tribe album, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Tip is a genius and that genius shined through on his solo endeavors, and it carries over here. The production is solid, with Ali Shaheed and Tip handling the bulk of the production, but some beats test the limit of what is conventional hip hop and what the Tribe sound was. Sometimes it works, like on the faster paced, Andre 3000 featured "Kids", but sometimes it doesn't work, like on "Lost Somebody", which is a sore thumb on this record. Other songs like "Solid Wall Of Sound", "The Space Program", and a few others give off the new feel of what Tribe now is, while the 2nd disc has elements of the old Tribe like "Conrad Tokyo" with Kendrick Lamar, "Ego", and the final track "The Donald". It's good to see a new element mixed in with the classic element, and it works because they avoid stagnation that could plague a group returning after 18 years.

As far as my personal favorite tracks? "Melatonin", "Kids", "The Space Program", "We The People", "Enough", "Black Spasmodic", and "Conrad Tokyo". The truth be told, the whole album itself is damn near flawless, though I could do without "The Killing Season" and the unnecessary hook from Kanye, and of course, the aforementioned "Lost Somebody". Outside of those two tracks, I can enjoy everything else on this album. This album provides a listening experience that you didn't even realize that you missed. It felt great to have Tribe back, and though this is the last album, it does their legacy justice without a doubt. RIP to Phife Dawg. 


Popular Posts