This album was released on November 11th in the year of our lord 2016. This will be my first time ever hearing this record. I think I’m gonna love this shit. Everything I know about it is just super promising. The album cover is beautiful, all the reception I’ve seen is insanely positive, and the features are all very enticing. I’ve heard a couple singles from it already too, and I love everything I’ve heard so far. This is the final album in the discography of A Tribe Called Quest. Phife Dawg of course passed away 8 months prior to this album’s release, and I’m not really sure how much of it was already completed while he was alive. From what I’ve heard his inclusion in this record was very tasteful though. Honestly, I won’t be surprised if this ends up knocking out Royce da 5’9″‘s Layers from my top five albums of 2016. For those of you wondering, the reason I waited so long to listen to this project is because I wanted to finish up the Busta Rhymes Marathon first. Since A Tribe Called Quest & the Leaders of the New School are so closely associated with one another, I just felt like it’d only be right to do their discographies in tandem. Maybe I was wrong, but fuck it. It is what it is.
There aren’t any tracks that I don’t like on this album, so I’ll write about it in the proper order of the track listing. The opening song is called The Space Program.
This is one of the few songs from this album that I’d already heard since I watched the music video when it dropped a couple years ago. By the way… That’s still one of the best music videos I’ve ever seen. Honestly, I’d say that’s the best way to listen to the song. I’m really glad that was my first impression of the track. I think the song is slightly less enjoyable on its own, but it’s still fantastic. That video is incredible though. Anyway, the jazzy production on this track is pretty much exactly what I would’ve expected from A Tribe Called Quest. It sounds like they never left. The opening verse from Q-Tip was great, but I was actually more impressed by the following verse from Jarobi to be honest. I don’t know why. I think it’s probably just because I’m not used to hearing him rap as much, so it was just cool to hear him killin’ it. For someone who was originally just viewed as a hype-man, that dude is incredibly talented. I don’t think most people would’ve guessed that he was that dope on the mic. He doesn’t sound like an amateur or like he’s severely out of Q-Tip’s league. His flow was smoother than fuck. I love the political content of this track too. Well, I don’t even know if “political” is the right word to use in this situation. The song is basically about how when the Earth inevitably succumbs to climate change and humans are immigrating to Mars, white people will be prioritized while those of African descent are left behind.
They planning for our future, people; none of our people involved
Pouring Henny and Smirnoff to get it cracking off
Cracking off a Smirnoff to quickly turn to Molotov
Molotov the spaceship doors before that bitch is taking off
It always seems the poorest persons are people forsaken, dog
No Washingtons, Jeffersons, Jacksons on the captain's log
They’d rather lead us to the grayest water poison deadly smog
Mass un-blackening, it’s happening, you feel it y’all?
Rather see we in a three-by-three structure with many bars
Leave us where we are so they can play among the stars
They taking off to Mars, got the space vessels overflowing
What, you think they want us there? All us niggas not going
I’ve never really thought about this to be honest, but that’s probably true. Some people may label this theory of the “mass un-blackening” as pessimistic, but it seems plausible to me. I fucking hate the government, man. I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be a metaphor for gentrification, but it’s pretty interesting in the literal sense too. It also reminds me of the Tuskegee Experiment. Anyway, even though it’s pretty simplistic, this song actually has one of the most memorable hooks on the album in my opinion. It gets stuck in my head every time I listen to the song. The next verse from Q-Tip is pretty great, but overall Jarobi actually had my favorite performance, even if he didn’t contribute as much as Tip. I of course enjoyed hearing that outro from Phife Dawg, but I was hoping he would have a verse on this song. I obviously understand that he probably wasn’t alive when this song was being finished, so that’s likely why he didn’t really rap here, but I think that would’ve made the song perfect. His outro does feel like it’s a bit longer than it needs to be. However, when you watch the music video the visuals keep things interesting, which is why I think that’s the best way to experience the song. Overall, I still think the track is dope af. It’s followed by We the People…., which I had also heard ahead of my first listen of the album since it had a music video.
People were also playing this song aloud in my city at some of the protests at the height of outrage towards the lynchings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Again, I love the political content here. I also think the relatively energetic production is awesome. It really gets my blood rushing. I think the opening verse from Q-Tip is pretty good from a lyrical perspective, although I admittedly wasn’t crazy about his delivery. My main gripe is the way the beat kept cutting out during a bunch of the lines. That was just annoying to me to be honest. I’m nitpicking though. I liked the filter on his voice that made him sound like he was rapping through a megaphone. It was a dope verse. Once again, the hook here is phenomenal. I love how he kinda mocked the rhetoric of mainstream political figures in the United States, namely Donald Trump.
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
Phife Dawg came through on the second verse with a great performance. I love how anti-mainstream so much of the lyricism on this album is. It gives me a very Punk, kinda Run the Jewels-ish type of feeling. Just from a lyrical standpoint though.
The fog and the smog of new media that logs
False narratives of Gods that came up against the odds
We're not just nigga rappers with the bars
It's kismet that we're cosmic with the stars
You bastards overlooking street art
Better yet, street smarts, but you keep us off the charts
So motherfuck your numbers and your statisticians
Fuck y'all know about true competition?
I kinda just wish the song was longer to be honest. One more verse from Jarobi would’ve really pushed this to the next level for me. I still think it’s fire though. The song is dope as hell. Track 3 is called Whateva Will Be. This track isn’t quite as memorable as the two preceding songs in my opinion, but it’s not necessarily worse. I think the production is incredible. That Nairobi Sisters sample sounds amazing. Once again, I love the political content. The opening verse from Phife is fantastic.
Are you amused by our struggles? The English that's broken?
The weed that I'm smokin'? The guns that I'm totin'?
The drugs that I'm sellin'? No need for improvement
Fuck you and who you think I should be, forward movement
I thought it was just me for a while, but it seems like a lot of people of color get frustrated with white people putting them in a box just because of popular stereotypes. His verse definitely resonated with me a lot. The second verse from Jarobi was pretty good, although not as fantastic as his performance on the opening track. The third verse from Q-Tip was really nice, and I absolutely love his vocals on the hook. They sound amazing to me. The little outro verse from Consequence was pretty nice too. Overall, I think the song is dope as hell. The following track is called Solid Wall of Sound. The Elton John sample is great, and the way Tip, Phife & Busta Rhymes were all trading bars together was crazy. The outro of this song is fantastic as well. I love the way the beat switches up, and the singing from Elton & Q-Tip sounds really damn good. In terms of the song structure, there isn’t really too much going on. It’s just some great rapping from three veterans sandwiched between the hook, followed by the aforementioned outro. Everything here is really good though. I mean, the “solid wall of sound” vocal sample did get slightly annoying to me by the time the song ended to be honest. Not really though. Only a little. The song is dope as hell. It’s followed by the first major highlight for me, Dis Generation.
I think this is my favorite track from Side A of the album, and possibly my favorite song overall. I of course love the jazzy production, and the way all three MCs in the group were rapping together on the opening verse was really nice. I loved this line from Q-Tip towards the end in which he gives props to some of the current generation’s popular lyricists.
Talk to Joey, Earl, Kendrick, and Cole, gatekeepers of flow
They are extensions of instinctual soul
It's the highest in commodity grade
And you could get it today
I also of course love how Busta Rhymes had another feature on that second verse. Again, he was trading bars with the other three rappers on the song, so that was cool. The following track is called Kids…, and it has a pretty dope feature from Andre 3000. It would’ve been tragic if this collaboration never happened, so I’m glad they were able to pull it off for this album. I don’t think his performance here is amazing or anything, but it was just cool to hear him working with Q-Tip, especially on that last verse where they’re trading bars. I think the production is kind of underwhelming to be honest, but it’s far from a wack beat. It’s just not really super impressive to me. The second verse from Q-Tip was pretty cool. The song doesn’t really get that impressive to me until the final verse. That’s definitely the most enjoyable part in my opinion. Anyway, I think the song is pretty good, but it’s definitely a low point on the record for me. Nothing about it really stands out that much. It is cool just to hear this collaboration though. I fuck with it. The penultimate track on Side A of the album is called Melatonin. The production here is absolutely glorious, and Q-Tip’s flow is pristine as well. I kinda wish Jarobi or Phife rapped on this song, but Q-Tip definitely held it down on his own. One aspect of the song that I did find kind of tedious was that “they don’t know” vocal line from Marsha Ambrosius that kept repeating after a lot of Tip’s lines. It just got kind of annoying to me. The vocals on the outro from Yebba were fantastic though. I loved her feature here. Same goes for Q-Tip’s singing at the end. He sounded great. The content about general stress isn’t super interesting to me on paper, but I think it was well executed. The song is dope. The final song on Side A is called Enough!!, and it’s really goddamn good. The sexual content isn’t really my cup of tea, but I think it’s done pretty tastefully. Just from a sonic perspective, I think this is my favorite song on the album. The beat is absolutely incredible, and same goes for the hook. The opening verse from Jarobi is pretty solid. Q-Tip definitely had the better performance though. The opening line of his verse really caught me off guard.
Is it an issue if I make you nut?
His flow was smoother than motherfuck. I loved it. Even though the content isn’t really for me, and Jarobi’s verse wasn’t super impressive, I still think the song is pretty fantastic. It’s dope as hell to me. The first track from Side B is called Mobius, and it’s a major highlight for me. This song doesn’t actually feature any rapping from Phife, Jarobi, or Q-Tip. The first verse is performed by Consequence, and it’s pretty damn good. He’s never been an amazing rapper to me or anything, but I don’t think he’s wack at all. He’s not the most exciting artist, but I think he’s pretty good. I enjoyed his verse. Busta Rhymes is the star of the show here though.
Fuck that, I'm chokin' niggas, it's goin' down
I'm from a different cloth, we the oracles of the sounds
Skip town, hit 'em with impeccable pound
Lost-found, the way I flood it, niggas gon' drown
He fucking spazzed on this track. The beat is amazing too, and he sounds perfect over it. The song feels more like an interlude than anything, but it’s so good that I don’t even care. I think it’s dope af. The following track is another major highlight called Black Spasmodic. I think this is my favorite track from Side B. I love the lighthearted production, and the hook from Consequence is pretty nice. Phife killed that first verse too. One thing I noticed is that he was paying homage to his Trinidadian roots a lot on this album, which resonated with me since my maternal family is from there. Anyway, the final verse from Q-Tip on this song is utterly amazing. He was basically channeling the spirit of Phife Dawg.
You better flame 'em in the J's that they standing in Ostracize they memory for not remembering The articles reduce their body parts to particles And dust the Dead Sea with their cremated molecules I’m leaving, but nigga you still got the work to do I expect the best from you, I’m watching from my heaven view
That might honestly be my favorite verse on the album. That shit is amazing. The song is dope af overall. The following track is called The Killing Season. The opening verse from Talib Kweli is pretty dope. I really dug that seasonal scheme he had going.
Winter in America, never knew white Christmas
'Cause L7 squares always making my shit list
Spring is in the air and all the flowers are blooming
The powers that be wanna devour the movement
Tears disappear when they fall on the summer rain
Bleedin' through this mic, but they call it entertainment
I don’t think the production is amazing or anything, but I definitely do like it, especially when it transitions to the sung hook from Kanye West, which sounds surprisingly great. Lyrically, this track sees a return to the more political themes that permeated the beginning of the record. I liked the second verse from Consequence in which he rapped about some old white ho viewing him and his friends as a threat. Sorry for calling her a ho. I just thought that would be funny. Anyway, the final verse from Jarobi is easily the best performance on the song in my opinion. It’s crazy to me that this dude is such a dope rapper. He’s like the secret weapon that the crew only whipped out for the finale.
It must be killing season, on the menu strange fruit
Whose juices fill the progress of this here very nation
Whose states have grown bitter through justice expiration
These fruitful trees are rooted in bloody soil and torment
Things haven’t really changed, or they're dormant for the moment
Marks and scars we own, it only makes for tougher skin
Helps us actualize the actual greatness held within
Been on the wrong team so much, can’t recognize a win
Seems like my only crime is having melanin
I think his delivery and flow sound just ever so slightly awkward at certain points, but the superb quality of his writing makes up for it. The song is dope as hell. It’s followed by perhaps the most emotional track on the entire project, Lost Somebody, which is of course about the tragic passing of Phife Dawg. The production is amazing, and I love the biographical approach Q-Tip took with the opening verse.
Let’s progress the story just a little bit
Malik, I would treat you like little brother that would give you fits
Sometimes overbearing though I thought it was for your benefit
Despite all the spats and shits cinematically documented
The one thing I appreciate, you and I, we never pretended
Rhymes we would write it out, hard times fight it out
Gave grace face to face, made it right
And now you riding out
The vocals from Katia Cadet on the hook are very nice. The second verse from Jarobi honestly didn’t hit me quite as hard as Q-Tip’s performance, but it was still pretty good.
Never thought that I would be ever writing this song
Hold friends tight, never know when those people are gone
So, so beautiful, opined indisputable
Heart of a largest lion trapped inside the little dude
The way the song ends is really fucking cool too. At first I thought my stream of the album was fucking up because the singing from Katia Cadet just ends abruptly. I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to represent the manner in which Phife’s life was cut short.
There are a few seconds of silence, followed by a few guitar riffs from Jack White. It sounds like his guitar is sobbing. It’s amazing.
The song is dope as hell. The next track is entitled Movin’ Backwards. I think the production here is pretty great, and I really dug the opening verse from Jarobi. One thing I noticed on this album is that there were a lot of disses to rappers with ghostwriters. There was one lyric in particular that seemed like a direct shot at Drake, but I’ll get to that. Anyway, I really love the hook from Anderson .Paak on this track. The way the beat kinda cuts off when he first comes in is really goddamn awesome. Unfortunately, I wasn’t really crazy about the full verse that he contributed. I mean, I definitely don’t think it’s a bad verse. I just feel like it was unnecessary. He takes up a lot of the song. The next verse from Q-Tip is nice, albeit pretty short, and then there’s another long ass verse from Anderson .Paak. That’s really my main gripe with the song. It’s just too much. It reminded me of his feature on the title track of ScHoolboy Q‘s album from 2016. It almost feels like Anderson .Paak featuring A Tribe Called Quest. Obviously it’s not a huge complaint, but it’s definitely something that kinda bothered me. I still like the song though. I think it’s pretty good. Track 14 is called Conrad Tokyo. I love how heavy the production is here. It fits Kendrick Lamar‘s style perfectly. I honestly don’t think it would’ve sounded out of place on To Pimp a Butterfly. The opening verse from Phife Dawg is fantastic. I of course loved his critique of mainstream politics, along with his condemnation of newer Hip Hop artists who around 2016 seemed to be going out of their way to disrespect important pioneers of the genre.
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
In lieu of these mumbling, fumbling
Swearing they're the greatest
Online they debate us, if we different, then we're haters
We ended our hiatus, the Dawg's looking for food
TALK THAT TALK, PHIFE. Kendrick of course sounded amazing on the second verse. It was only like 8 bars, but it was still great. Less is more in this situation. Anderson .Paak should take notes. That came off a bit more disrespectful than it should have, but still. I loved that line about devils fumigating the economy and illuminating broken dreams. That was fire. Anyway, the way the instrumental plays out after this verse is amazing. There are only two Rap performances on the song, and both of them are relatively short, but the way the beat grows throughout the remainder of the track keeps things interesting. I think the song is dope as hell. The penultimate track is called Ego. This isn’t really a highlight for me personally, but I do think it’s very good. I love the production here. The bassline kinda reminded me of Scenario a little bit. The content of the song just isn’t particularly interesting to me personally. I think it’s well executed. As the title of the track indicates, Q-Tip is pretty much just rapping about the concept of the ego. He mainly just raps about the negative aspects of it though. The guitar solo from Jack White was cool I guess. I don’t know. I generally dislike electric guitars. Obviously there are exceptions. I liked his other appearances on this record. The second verse from Tip was cool, but overall the song just isn’t particularly memorable, especially in the context of the rest of the album. I definitely like it to some extent, but it’s far from a favorite of mine. The closing track is entitled The Donald, and it’s definitely one of the best songs on the record in my opinion. Since this album came out within weeks of Donald Trump’s election in 2016, I assumed it would be a harrowing musical premonition of the four years that were to come, but that’s not the case at all. “The Donald” refers to “Don Juice,” which was one of Phife’s aliases. Anyway, the production here is incredible. I of course love DJ Scratch’s scratches, and the intro from Busta Rhymes is great. The first real verse comes from Phife Dawg himself. I interpreted these lines right here as a shot at Drake.
Who wanna spar? Haha, well, here I are
Orthodox spitter or bring on the southpaw
No doubt I'ma set it, dudes best be ready
Off top on the spot, no reading from your Whackberry
I love the aggressive, competitive attitude he has on this song. The final verse from Q-Tip is fantastic too. I think this is an amazing tribute to Phife.
Yes, yes, he the wrong ones to fuck with no matter what the day He could catch you on his plane or the one you on today Visit niggas in their dreams and make them scream of bloody murder He's a Trini gladiator, ain't no need to take it further
I love the way they were bigging him up the whole time. The vocals from Katia Cadet along with the electric guitar performance from Jack White were just the icing on the cake. The song is dope af.
This album is really goddamn great. It’s definitely not my favorite album from A Tribe Called Quest, but I think it certainly lives up to their best material, and I am by no means disappointed. I don’t really see how this album could have turned out any better given the circumstances to be honest. The production is top notch, and nearly every feature is placed perfectly. There’s not a single wack verse here. It was also really awesome to hear Jarobi killing shit on this record. I had no idea that dude was such a dope MC. Anyway, I really don’t have any consistent gripes with this album. Any complaints were specific to their own song. There’s not a single track here that isn’t good to me. I think this album is a massive success. It’s not only a fitting end to their catalogue, but also a captivating tribute to the late great Phife Dawg. It’s super dope.
Favorite Song: Black Spasmodic
Least Favorite Song: Kids…
Watch the videos below for more thoughts on this album.