Written By: Matthew Harron
A Tribe Called Quest returned from their 18-year hiatus without skipping a beat. Their double sided album, We got it from Here, is packed with a 90's-era feel that will have you jiving for the entirety of the album. One of the more politically charged pieces on the album is track two, “We the People.” Before listening to the song, the satirical title establishes the basis in which the lyrics within operate.
Kick back and listen to Q-Tip & Phife Dawg weave a beautifully crafted piece of music that unpacks messages functioning on multiple levels including: police brutality, deportation, inequality, and the social constructs of race and gender.
Q-Tips opening verse reveals the path in which the rest of this song will take:
We don’t believe you ‘cause we the people/
Are still here in the rear, ayo, we don’t need you/
You in the killing-off-good-young nigga mood/
When we get hungry we eat the same fucking food/
The Ramen Noodle.
Q-Tip addresses the opening lines of the constitution, revealing a sense of satire. He flows into the next line with a metaphor to African Americans being forced to sit in the rear of the bus during the 1950's. His transition to police brutality and the murder of Travyon Martin is fortified in identifying that we are all humans, attempting to live our everyday lives in peace.
The amount of ground that Q-Tip covers is quite impressive if you ask me; in the matter of four lines, Q-Tip matches the powerful beat, flowing through his lines with such intensity and passion. In another section of the same verse below, you will notice that Q-Tip continues the same flow and idea:
Niggas in the hood living in a fishbowl/
Gentrify here, now it’s not a shit hole/
Trendsetter, I know, my shit’s cold/
Ain’t settling because I ain’t so bold but ayy.
Those living in lower socioeconomic environments, predominately minorities, are stuck in a corrupt system. Those living in this system have little to no room at all to move; their ideas and ways of life bounce off the glass, similar to fish. Q-Tip criticizes white culture and those who gentrify the surroundings of minorities. Rather than solving the issues regarding poverty and crime, an influx of white citizens continue to move to these areas to make things "better". The hook that follows after verse one is simple, yet moving:
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.
These lines are most relevant to major societal issues today. While they are being reinforced by a large majority of Americans, there is a greater bigot at fault: our president, Donald Trump.
Verse two is taken over by Phife Dawg. His lyrics are creative and his flow points towards unrecognized talent.
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?
Phife Dawg reiterates that pop culture doesn’t take the time to recognize talent from the streets; more so, not recognizing honest music with an actual message behind the beat. Major record labels and publications look past a majority of such talent, not allowing them to ever transcend and make it to the top of the charts. Phife Dawg claims that statistics and numbers are extraneous—what really matters is the message and aesthetic produced through their medium. Phife Dawg ends with a total bash towards pop culture, claiming that they have no clue what actual competition is like.
The entirety of Phife Dawg’s verse will make your head spin with his clever word play and syntax. Not only does Phife Dawg address racial issues, he also throws in a line aimed towards gender discrimination:
We got your missy smitten rubbing on her little kitten/
Dreaming of a world that’s equal for women with no division/
Boy, I tell you that’s a vision.
Phife Dawg refers Missy Smitten as someone’s girlfriend, waiting for times to change for women. He claims that women are taking action for a world free of division and patriarchy. He is aware that equality for women is a large task, but our generation is taking admirable steps towards a better world.