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Unless otherwise noted, quotes from Michael Rapaport’s Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest.


We must have unity and think of the bigger plan

Division we will fall, we must stick together, see
– Vibes and Stuff, ATCQ

The first manifestation of culture is language. Idiosyncratic words and phrases represent how the community defines itself. This language is found in ATCQ five album releases in ten years. It’s also found in the regional social movement called Native Tongues. Collectively the language and music brought a message of awareness, identity, consciousness, empowerment, culture, movement and social connection.

They began by echoing the language from the boom box, mixed together with whatever linguistic variety was available on the streets of Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens. The name ‘Native Tongues’ is tells much of the story of ATCQ. Told by Eric Thurm of the A.V. Club:

Q-Tip was at Afrika Baby Bam’s house playing around on the turntables with Coming Together, a record by Motown-offshoot funk group New Birth. One track on the album, “African Cry,” prominently features the lyric “Took away our native tongues,” which became, after being cut repeatedly as a joke and then in earnest, the name of a collective where all the members seemed to be speaking the same language. Native Tongues was born.

De La Soul member Posdnuos states: “We all speak the same tongue, the same language […] it’s that simple.” If a tongue, what nation? Again, from Thurm:

Red Alert was also a member of Afrika Bambaataa’s Universal Zulu Nation, a quasi-religious organization promoting unity and cultural awareness through hip-hop. The Zulu ideals, embodied primarily through Afrocentrism and an emphasis on individual identity, would find a home in the music of the Native Tongues, many of whom were and remain members of the Zulu Nation.

One outcome of this solidarity was the freedom for young people in the community to explore their self knowledge, identity and expression.

ALI: They didn’t really want to hate on us because we were part of Zulu nation so it was like the whole thing is about diversity and embracing the different things within culture that separate us but actually tie us to this thing called music.
COMMON: Being a teenager sometimes being into something that is different you kind of scared to do it because your homies are like man what you doing, [instead] you can be different and be celebrated.

Throughout the film, members of Tribe and Native Tongue use a common language to describe their experience: awareness, identity, consciousness, empowerment, culture, movement, social connection. These were the values articulated by members of the community. The result was a unique sound, culture and movement from the streets of New York.

Friday: A Tribe Called Quest and the Spirit of the Movement.

This week, Truth Bomb Trails is exploring Music + Social Justice: Building Community through Sound. Look forward to posts on the ways that musicians and artists provide public service, the perspective of Paul Willis (hear his music at bandcamp, soundcloud, reflections on music from childhood and a look at the role music helps to shape and define emerging culturesEnjoy the tunes that helped inspire the week!

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