Legendary music exec and stylish glasses wearer L.A. Reid told the world on Rap Radar that we will be getting a new album from A Tribe Called Quest “very soon.” This isn’t the “first time” we’ve heard about new music from one of the best groups of all time, but it’s by far the most credible source on the matter. After all, when the CEO of the label the group is signed to says they have a new joint on the way, it’s a pretty good bet it’s more reality than fiction. As a hip-hop collective, the question isn’t whether we need new Tribe music because that answer is always “yes,” but rather do we want new Tribe music.
Sadly, the answer is “no.”
The final title card of the very dope A Tribe Called Quest documentary stated they still owed Jive Records one more album and since ’98, there’s been plenty of chatter in dark corners of the internet that they were working on new music. The problem was Phife and Q-Tip getting on the same page. If you want to know what a group sounds like when its members don’t have the same creative vision anymore, listen to Beats, Rhymes and Life then chase it down with a shot of The Love Movement.
That’s not to say these are bad albums at all, but the fact that the best thing I can say about those albums is they’re “not bad” speaks volumes. Tribe set the bar at Olympian heights with their first three albums and “not bad” doesn’t cut it. Not then and certainly not now in the wake of Phife’s passing.
While putting out posthumous material is nothing new–one of the sole reasons people passionately believe Tupac is alive–but this one would feel different. The aforementioned stuff aside, this will potentially be the last we hear of Phife and it needs to be in a good light. Last November he told Rolling Stone that even though he wanted it to happen, he couldn’t see them getting back in the studio because it was hard enough to perform together.
“Think about it: The shows that we do are 60 minutes of your day for whatever amount of money. It’s just 60 minutes of your day and then you go on with your life, so forth and so on. I don’t see nothing wrong with doing 15 shows a year for a good amount of money. Sixty minutes of your day and you keep it moving. We all have families.
But at the same time, on the flip side of that, I believe in consistency. If we’re not a group, we’re not a group. If we are, we are. Let’s get this money. If we’re not, then let’s not even tease the fans. None of that craziness.”
Phife passed only a few months after this interview, so obviously Reid knows something we don’t in terms of the them squelching whatever flame engulfed them for almost 20 years. Reid says it’s not a compilation but new music he’s excited about and not one person is missing from the album, including Mr. Sometimes Y himself, Jairobi.
Now let’s assume that Reid isn’t lying and that Phife wasn’t being coy during that interview. If so, then it’s great Tip and Phife managed to put the bullsh*t aside before he passed in order to make music again, but how will it come out? Did they finally agree on a sound since Phife was against the change in style on their last two albums? Did they fix the chemistry issues and find a way to be in the same room together without massive amounts of shade being thrown?
More importantly, were Phife and Tip able to remember that they’re friends and to be genuinely happy in each other’s presence? Getting on the same page is one thing but remembering that the two of them were friends long before the first sentence about A Tribe Called Quest was written is key to at least giving us good musical output.
Once again, therein lines the problem: new Tribe music can’t just be “good.” Reid may be more excited about the project than anything else he’s working on at the moment, but the group has to have that same excitement. 20 years is a long time and in that time, their legacy has become larger than the group. The only artists they’re competing with are themselves. Specifically the younger, hungrier, happier versions.
That version of A Tribe Called Quest took two years to finish The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders. This version supposedly put this album together in a little more than three months.
That’s not something I can say I’m overjoyed to hear nor can I say I want.