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A Tribe Called Quest’s Radical Grammys

Revolution isn’t just a young man’s game

(AP Images)
(AP Images)

Busta Rhymes was never actually in A Tribe Called Quest — he’s always been a peripheral but integral character. The early-’90s New York rap collective Native Tongues consisted of Tribe, De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, Leaders of the New School (Busta’s original rap group), and Busta himself. His inception as a solo artist arguably started with his two verses on “Scenario.” Q-Tip was on The Coming, Busta’s solo debut; Busta was all over Tribe’s We Got It From Here … Thank U 4 Your Service. Busta was always at the party because he knew somebody at the house.

All this to say: Busta Rhymes is a member of Tribe now. And (WARNING: Painful Cliché Coming) not to diminish Busta’s induction (I’m actually going to do this), but having watched that performance (I warned you) it feels like we might all be Tribe now.

At an otherwise mellow Grammy Awards on Sunday night, sometime after Tip gestured at a vacant mic and dedicated the group’s Anderson .Paak–assisted medley to the late Phife Dawg, Buss stomped into the spotlight. He referred to Donald Trump as “President Agent Orange,” gave a passing nod to Trump’s unlawful and unsuccessful immigration policies, and burst through a literal wall with a group of actors meant to represent every marginalized race, creed, and religion. And then, finally, the whole extended Tribe launched into a deeply spiritual rendition of “We the People,” the single from their timely-to-the-point-of-prescient 2016 album We Got It From Here.

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The chorus of which goes, you’ll recall:

The art of protest doesn’t have to be fancy or intricate. It just has to be really loud. And it has to disrupt. As everyone onstage joined together and roared the refrain in the most literal and necessary act of solidarity, the beat dropped out and Q-Tip repeated the same word to a sea of mostly inspired, occasionally unsettled faces: RESIST. RESIST. RESIST.

(CBS)
(CBS)

I’m sure there’ll be plenty of words written about how “politically charged” and “upsetting” all of this was, but then again, these are politically charged and upsetting times, so.

The night skewed young — Chance the Rapper continued to be a ray of unending sunshine and a bottomless trough of cotton candy, Twenty One Pilots accepted an award in their underwear, James Corden … rapped, if that’s what we’re calling that. The proceedings were more charged than in years past but largely the same — reserved, even — until Tribe’s (median age of 44) thrilling performance, and until Busta compared the sitting president to a Vietnam War–era toxic defoliant that can be serviceably described as a man-made plague.

So there it is: The Youngs maintained the status quo, and the Olds showed up, kept the outrage alive, and taught us politics. What a world.