Ah Jean Dubuffet
when you think of him
doing his military service in the Eiffel Tower
as a meteorologist
you know how wonderful the 20th Century
- Frank O’Hara, Naphta
For many, news that “A Tribe Called Quest will be releasing a new album” came like the flu, as classic Hip Hop use of metaphor would put it: an uncontrollable reason to stay put and tune in. The flu? I don’t want the flu! I want to walk about and promenade not feel bedridden.
With their new album, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, instead, we were offered something close to a historical present that is not the bad flu: asking us overtly to, rhythmically, question our present all the while considering that our questions, in the present, belong to a chronology of living wherein the music of A Tribe Called Quest plays a defining role. Contrarians fueling culture. A Tribe Called Quest = military service accomplished for a beloved cause.
Dudes rude and as useless as coins, shoot ’em boys
Versed in, rehearsed in the soothing of loins
Talk to Joey, Earl, Kendrick, and Cole, gatekeepers of flow
They are extensions of instinctual soul
It’s the highest in commodity grade
And you could get it today
It’s an ah that I felt as I tuned in to this album that a spectacle that is not a spectacle i.e. good music – the same comforting ah in Frank O’Hara’s poem. We are comforted by the fact that this exists, and the fact that it has existed (1922.) How certain of soulful rap having had positive effects on our society am I?
The past… There’s this persistent idea in philosophy, and that obsesses our common sense, that the past no longer exists. St. Augustine presents the idea in his book Confessions, written between 397 to 400. Reading a history book, then, is reading what is no more and can no longer be.
Some of us remember the past, but how many of us remember the era like a picture of a figurative painting and that A Tribe Called Quest progressed the era? Marcel Proust named his search a Remembrance of Things Past because the past is nothing more than a memory. Proust searched through a bourgeois memory of women such as Madame Verdurin, MC of salons as a wealthy woman whose style consisted of mixing criticism and exclamation.
If the pianist suggested playing the Ride of the Valkyries, or the Prelude to Tristan, Mme. Verdurin would protest, not that the music was displeasing to her, but, on the contrary, that it made too violent an impression. “Then you want me to have one of my headaches? You know quite well, it’s the same every time he plays that. I know what I’m in for. Tomorrow, when I want to get up–nothing doing!” If he was not going to play they talked, and one of the friends–usually the painter who was in favour there that year–would “spin,” as M. Verdurin put it, “a damned funny yarn that made ’em all split with laughter,” and especially Mme. Verdurin, for whom–so strong was her habit of taking literally the figurative accounts of her emotions–Dr. Cottard, who was then just starting in general practice, would “really have to come one day and set her jaw, which she had dislocated with laughing too much.”
Was how I felt when I first heard A Tribe Called Quest like when Proust first heard Mme Verdurin? How did you feel? Asking yourself the question might look a lot like David Hockney’s painting My Parents, where Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past is in the painting shelved but nowhere prominent, for two sitting beings. The truth is that we are elderly in our way of forgetting and have no idea, and that though we have read examples of looking back in school or on our own, memories are imagined.
“History is a vast warehouse where you will take whatever is useful to you” said Voltaire, the slave boat owning progressive philosopher, to the woman with whom he lived (in her chateau in Cirey) Emilie de Chatelet, who preferred hard sciences like Newtonian physics. Do I choose to remember what I want to remember?
Is it a grotesque memory like in Amie Barrodale story, like in “Animals”?
He rubbed her side with his fingers.
“You had a smudge.”
“Do you want to put on a robe and walk with me?”
“Actually, what I’d really like is to sit down.”
“Why don’t you get a robe on and come to my Winnebago.”
It might be a ah memory: an ah, like in O’hara’s poem. If it is (it was for me,) what is it about A Tribe Called Quest’s past songs and our own pasts (some like myself who were not around for that past) that delivers an ‘ah’ for all? Is it that there is a memory of A Tribe Called Quest that has been developed and accepted by ourselves: accepted enough to collectively imagine that the military service that A Tribe Called Quest was performing in the past, rapping for the cause, had made the world a better place?
I hope my legendary style of rap lives on
A-fixed to the Earth like my feet, they got cleats on
I’m moving backwards, never that was never the plan
Pushing shit along, render stillness in the quick sand
Asphalt jumpin’, junkie lyrical, concrete
My Jedi mind be moving me
Throughout the many dark streets
The answer seems to be that societies move along in certain directions because of memory: memory feeds principle, and principle becomes an ideal in a society. We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service exists in relation to that principle – a principle that could very well be articulated as a philosophy.
we owe a debt to the Iroquois
and to Duke Ellington
- Frank O’Hara, Naphta
What’s the philosophy, the adage, or perhaps “the word” that boogies this society when it comes to listening to the historical present (history of rap soul)? Do your military service, girls and boys, caring for your neighbors, and you will become significant to your society.