A Tribe Called Quest’s “The Donald,” the final track on their first album in 18 years, is not about Donald Trump. Maybe. With playful DJ scratches, jazzy keys, and patois all radiating the warmth of friendship, the song is the group’s final goodbye to its member Phife Dawg, who died at age 45 from complications of diabetes earlier this year and who had claimed the nickname “Don Juice.” Still, you don’t call a song “The Donald” and release it three days after the presidential election without knowing the implications. You don’t sample a newscaster saying “Donald” over and over again without wanting to conjure up the billionaire who in his campaign’s final days made hip-hop yet another non-white scapegoat for America’s problems. You don’t create a song like this without wanting to draw a comparison between Don Juice and The Donald, or really, in this case, a contrast.
Great albums eventually transcend the conditions that surrounded their release, and the excellent We Got It From Here … Thank You 4 Your Service, recorded over the past year, may indeed succeed at that. But first, it’s a document of its time. The hack of John Podesta’s emails revealed that the band’s brilliant frontman Q-Tip reached out to help the Clinton campaign; here, he makes multiple references to the glory of female leadership, a particularly poignant gesture now. There are plenty of other chillingly relevant lyrics inspired by the news in 2015 and 2016. And grief for the recently passed Phife (as well as his his own voice) permeates the ever-morphing funky medley even in its most joyful moments. But maybe the album’s deepest resonance, its great connection and clash with the moment, is the music itself: its celebration of intellect and teamwork, its collage of multiracial influence, its liveliness in the face of sorrow.