“There ain’t a space program for niggas.”
It can’t be a coincidence that such powerful albums by black artists came out surrounding the election. Sure, so did that new Sting record, but Sting excluded, three of the most powerful black artists released records within the same two weeks, with every other big name featured somewhere in between. Common and Alicia Keys marked big events for both artists careers, but the real hype surrounded the return of A Tribe Called Quest, one of the most legendary New York City hip-hop groups of all time. When Q-Tip says that “there ain’t a space program for niggas” on track 1 of their new record, it hits like a brick, especially post-election. Meaning not only that Space X doesn’t really hire African-American engineers or astronauts, but the concept of “space program,” and how the space black people have been living in for so long hasn’t included them in the conversation.
Stuck in our own little bubbles, we couldn’t comprehend Donald Trump becoming President of the United States of America. We were blinded, but now we can see. Common, someone who campaigned almost as hard as Pusha T for Hillary Clinton, put out Black America Again, a record that felt so different listening pre and post-election. Like the SNL sketch with Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock ever so smartly put it, the election didn’t come as a surprise to most African-Americans–it was the same shit America’s always done.
Electing a black president doesn’t defeat racism. People still got shot down in the street, mostly just for being black. For the white liberals in their bubbles toasting to the Latino vote and planning their Hillary drinking games for what would have been the day we elected our first women president, we woke up that day. We realized we needed a new narrative. Like Stevie Wonder sings over and over again at the end of “Black America Again,” “we are rewriting the black American story.”
Alicia’s record was more personal, like Solange or Jamila Woods, and while I wasn’t a huge fan of it as much as the others, it adds to the story of powerful black women making strong, personal, and honest records. Her major fault came purely on paper thin sounding production and generally, songwriting (I never cared if she went flat or not, I think Keys can sing). Common’s record really only had a couple of verses and especially the strength of the music to keep it going (because Common hasn’t been that captivating since 2005), but there are really solid moments on Black America Again, and it’s Common’s best effort in a long time.
The Tribe record however, is the real kicker. Recorded way before Common and Alicia Keys’ records, We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service is more than just a homage to Phife Dawg, a founding member who passed away earlier this year. The record is also a poignant political statement.
In the song “We the People…,” Tribe makes a bold statement with the lyrics: “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.” When Trevor Noah of The Daily Show asked Q-tip what they meant by the line, he explained that it was a reflection of sentiments already “brewing in this country.” With Phife’s passing earlier this March, it means that most of the material had to be recorded in 2015 or even farther back.
While Common & Stevie Wonder’s “rewriting the Black American story” is powerful enough, it says a lot that an album written over two years ago is most poignant today. As the late Phife Dawg pleads at the end of “The Space Program,” “time to go left and not right / gotta get it together forever / gotta get it together for brothers / gotta get it together for sisters / for mothers and fathers and dead niggas / for non-conformers, won’t hear the quitters / for Tyson types and Che figures / let’s make somethin’ happen, let’s make somethin’ happen.”