Singles Club: Donald Glover delivers a P-funk supernova and A Tribe Called Quest dazzle again

Each week on the FACT Singles Club, a selection of our writers work their way through the new music of the week gone by.

In the face of calamity, this week we’re treated to a very welcome return from A Tribe Called Quest, who make up for 18 years out the game with a fiery, necessary double album.

That’s not the only comeback of the week – The xx return with ‘On Hold’, while Donald Glover gets back in the rap ring as Childish Gambino. Also on the block: Wiley & Devlin and Lil Uzi Vert.

A Tribe Called Quest – ‘We The People’

Haley Potiker: Has any record, anywhere, ever, been better timed than We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service? Even in a vacuum, their decades-after-the-fact curtain call is stunning, a worthy entry into the Tribe canon and one of the year’s best albums. But songs like ‘Space Program’ and ‘We the People’ – both performed on the Dave Chappelle-hosted Saturday Night Live – double as scathing indictments of the systemic pressures people of color face, heightened by Trump’s victory. Political rap never went away, as classicists grumpily argue, but few do any sort of rap as well as Tribe. (10)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Admission time: bar ‘Luck of Lucien’, A Tribe Called Quest never really appealed to me as a headphones listener. There are a wealth of deathless anthems, but when it comes to my personal listening habits, too much Tribe leaves me restless, eager to marinate in another group’s grooves. (De La, if you’re wondering.) But even to this slightly Tribephobic listener, ‘We the People’ feels necessary in its scratched-out anger at an ugly world, months-old rhymes made more pertinent with this week’s election of You Know Who and his government’s anticipated flurry on minority groups. It’s a fired-up rage at the state of the nation – hence “we the people” – that gets a lot off some concerned citizens’ chests, and hopefully that brings you some peace too. (7)

Tayyab Amin: “Who can come back years later, still hit the shot” – and drop a chorus that no musty, middle-class, “real hip-hop” white dude can justifiably sing along to? Tribe don’t sound their most dextrous on ‘We The People’, but they couldn’t have spelled it out clearer, either – I stood up and applauded at the “fishbowl” line. Much love to Phife. (7)

Chris Kelly: The next group that reunites and recaptures even a fraction of their original magic will be the first. An admirable effort but one that will probably be overrated because of Phife Dawg’s passing and Donald Trump’s ascension. (5)

Son Raw: Pretty sure a necromancer made a deal with the devil, allowing him to fuck up 2016 as bad as he wanted as long as we got a great Tribe album. Not sure how I feel about Satan taking him up on it, but this is the perfect soundtrack for our apocalypse. (10)


The xx – ‘On Hold’

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: A relatively austere group up to this point, The xx sound comparatively massive on ‘On Hold’, a pop-ready power ballad duet. If Top Gun got a reboot, this would be the romance jam to end all romance jams. But outside of a fictional silver screen, it’s fairly anonymous for The xx. (6)

Tayyab Amin: Shout out to the whistling that sounds like someone’s making tea in the back, perfectly suitable for Britain’s ultimate let-me-put-the-kettle-on band. Following their trajectory, you can really picture the move away from stark, minimalist black-and-white into this swamp of severe beigery. Free Baria. (5)

Haley Potiker: The xx always seemed slippery, amorphous, a sense perhaps heightened by Jamie xx’s quiet adaptability in his own work. ‘On Hold’ isn’t too indebted to a strict formula – a relief maybe, but it takes a while to find new footing. The original vocals occasionally lapse into cloying arena pop-meets-dinner theater, but the break is a joy: bright, danceable component parts colliding. (7)

Son Raw: A mish-mash of tasteful tropes and tacky sentimentality. Look, I’m not saying we’ve got to spend the conceivable future looking like frowny face emojis, but this sort of pap pop is a smidge below singing contest shtick in a year that proved that reality TV needs to end NOW. (3)

Chris Kelly: It’s been a long time since I thought about The xx. I can’t even remember what Coexist sounded like, to be honest, but I do remember that it mostly dispensed with the sparse sensuality of their debut. That continues here: Romy and Oliver have grown into their voices, but the group has grown into easy listening background music – and not just because of the Hall & Oates samples. (6)


Lil Uzi Vert – ‘Grow Up’

Haley Potiker: Lil Uzi Vert is probably going to be a star, and I guess that’s fine. He’s fun enough, he’s industrious; he distills the sounds of those in his age bracket and from his city into something a little more accessible for people who listen to a lot of J. Cole. But when he raps, “Say I took your style? N—a, just grow up (oh well!),” it’s a little hard to stomach. (4)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: GLOhan Beats’ instrumental moves from fuzzed-out CCTV to full 1080p crispness, albeit with huge gaps, before evolving into a gleaming, wistful synth giant. It’s a stunning beat, and Vert fills its airy pockets with substantial charisma and the certain turn of phrase to match the oddness of the instrumental: “Diamonds lookin’ like water,” for one, a boast of wealth with a hint of sudden mysticism. (8)

Son Raw: Vert is rapidly moving past that raw, embryonic stage into something fully formed, and this hints at where he could and should go: using trap as the basis for spacey, dirty, romantic sex talk halfway between an RPG soundtrack flip and contemporary R&B. (8)

Chris Kelly: The bastard son of Young Thug and Chief Keef throws Poké Balls at his haters, shrugging off claims of swagger-jacking with an “oh well” and a swig of Hennessy. And to Real Rap Heads who get upset at rappers who are “young enough for your daughter,” you should grow up, too. (6)

Tayyab Amin: Four essential Uzi Vert quotes on this track:
“Kicked it one time with your girl and I swear we played soccer”
“Had to cut her off, feelin’ like Zorro / I’m just playin’ I’ll see her tomorrow”
“Diamonds lookin’ like water (the water in Bora Bora)”
“Had your girl in my car / Didn’t make it to the crib, that thing, it was parked”


Childish Gambino – ‘Me And Your Mama’

Son Raw: In which Donald Glover follows up the best TV show of the year with the best P-Funk ballad in several. It would have been easy to coast on Atlanta’s success and follow it up with a ‘told-ya-so’ rap album admonishing the critics who (rightfully) skewered his previous music, but instead he rolls with his momentum, proves he can SANG with the best of ‘em and transcending all previous limitations and expectations. Talk about overachieving! (9)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Donald Glover’s most agreeable quality is his ambition, and that goes for everything from comedy to acting to music. Even when he’s working so many inspirations, movements and performance angles into one song, his ambition is welcome rather than overbearing. And holy cow, ‘Me and Your Mama’ is stuffed to the gills – but it has strong grooves, an operatic brio and a love for details in the incredible production, so that Too Much becomes Just Right. (8)

Tayyab Amin: Did this guy just pick any two tracks and make a sandwich? The intro/outro and filling have the cohesiveness of a taped-over cassette. Glover’s raps are a running joke over in the Soundcloud mash-up scene, but this is so much better. His exasperated howling and croaking with effects over the choir are astounding. (7)

Chris Kelly: The art reminded me of Maggot Brain and Glover is certainly in his George Clinton phase, abandoning Nice Guy Indie Rap for a supernova of a psychedelic funk love song. Apparently all you have to do to get your music critically reappraised is mastermind the year’s best new TV show. Roundabout, sure, but it worked. (7)

Haley Potiker: Donald Glover is now being discussed as one of the most promising minds in TV, a distinction he’s earned (at least) twice over. How that will translate to critical and popular reception for his music as Childish Gambino is still unclear. But a six-and-a-half-minute, largely instrumental comeback single is a perplexing yet solid start. The middle section, with Glover’s entirely unhinged vocal (and sinister guitar), would score even higher in isolation. (7)


Wiley feat. Devlin – ‘Bring Them All/Holy Grime’

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Holy shit, this beat. Mr V, a veteran in both bassline and grime, has made the type of scorched-earth music that anybody could flail over and sound like a world-beater. Thank God he’s given this to Wiley, who’s one of the all-time greats even when he drifts onto autopilot, but is simply chewing this beat up. Devlin’s a real talent, but his Spiritual Lyrical Miracles are either your type of thing or not as a listener, and I could do without his gnarled rappity-rap delivery, especially when Wiley glides over his verses. (7)

Tayyab Amin: “And the flow shifts… more than once a minute,” said a guy who literally has one flow. Admittedly Devlin’s really good at that flow – but this is too unrealistic a boast for me to get behind. As for Wiley, his genius lies in the fact that I still can’t decide if I love him more when he puts in the most effort or when he puts in the least. Obviously the contextual backdrop here is the beef these guys had 10 years back. All I’m saying is that Devlin used to throw shots about Wiley’s age, but now who’s looking older? (6)

Son Raw: Perfectly passable and it’s nice to see these two on a track considering the bad blood, but let’s be real: you’d rather listen to Wiley slew on ‘Nightbus’ than a celebration over a beat that splits the difference between UK tempos and US drum patterns. I need this to be more surprising. (6)

Chris Kelly: This beat is like the Imperial March of grime: 30 seconds in and I’m ready to fight for the dark side. With Godfather around the corner, Wiley sounds excited for a chance to “go on and enjoy what [he] created.” But please, stop trying to make Devlin happen. (7)

Haley Potiker: I don’t know enough about the internal politics of grime to know how this reads to its core fans and participants. If this were hip-hop, the song–especially Devlin’s turn–would elicit eye-rolls from some and revivalist calls to action from others. My suspicion is that in grime (a younger genre by comparison), this is far less divisive. Formally, Wiley is great as always, magnetic even in long runs of rapid-fire syllables. (8)


Final scores:

A Tribe Called Quest – ‘We The People’ (7.8)
Childish Gambino – ‘Me And Your Mama’ (7.6)
Wiley feat. Devlin – ‘Bring Them All/Holy Grime’ (6.8)
Lil Uzi Vert – ‘Grow Up’ (6.8)
The xx – ‘On Hold’ (5.4)



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