Hip-hop started as a socially conscious art form that has evolved over the years as it ventured into the mainstream. At the Grammy Awards last night, A Tribe Called Quest took the genre back to its populist roots.
Joined by Anderson .Paak, Consequence, and Busta Rhymes, the group's performance directly challenged the Trump administration's policies on immigration while calling for the people to unite in resistance. And it brought the house down.
Q-Tip prefaced the set with a dedication to the group’s late member Phife Dawg and a message to the audience: “We’d like to say to all of those people around the world, all those people, who are pushing people who are in power to represent them, tonight we represent you.”
With that, they started into the classics “Award Tour” and “Can I Kick It?” before performing “Movin’ Backwards” from their most recent album,We Got It From Here… Thank You4 Your Service. The song features lyrics that back up Q-Tip’s introductory statement – that the power to achieve progress doesn’t come from elites but lies within the people: “I figured it out, figured it out somewhere/Maybe the answers not up there/Maybe it’s on the ground somewhere yeah yeah yeah/I don’t want to go backwards.”
Then Consequence and Busta Rhymes took the stage. The latter addressed Trump as “President Agent Orange,” a dig at Trump’s complexion and a reference to the herbicide the US military controversially used during the Vietnam War which continues to cause birth defects decades later. Busta didn’t stop there.
“I’m not feelin’ the political climate right now,” Busta said. “I just wanna thank President Agent Orange for the unsuccessful attempt at the Muslim ban.”
At that moment, as they began playing “We the People,” the rest of the group busted through a wall behind the performers, in a not-so-subtle critique at another one of Trump’s more controversial policies.
The attempted ban by the White House is personal for Q-Tip and fellow A Tribe Called Quest member Ali Shaheed Muhammad, both of whom are Muslim. In an effort to humanize the group that has been targeted by the Trump administration, part of the performance included Muslims walking out and standing on stage, coinciding with lyrics like, “You in the killin off good young brother mood/When we get hungry we eat the same damn food.”
On Feb. 9, three federal judges unanimously rejected Trump’s appeal to reinstate a travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries. Trump replied via twitter “SEE YOU IN COURT,” though it seems more likely the administration is going to rewrite the executive order rather than take the issue to the Supreme Court.
SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 9, 2017
Other artists made political statements throughout the evening, too. Presenter Paris Jackson, daughter of Michael Jackson, called for stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline. Laverne Cox raised awareness for trans rights by telling the audience to “Google Gavin Grimm,” the boy in Virginia at the heart of the Supreme Court’s upcoming restroom case, and to use the hashtag, “StandWithGavin.” Among performers, Katy Perry’s outfit was emblazoned with the message “Persist” while singing her new single “Chained to the Rhythm.”
Still, no artist was more explicitly political than A Tribe Called Quest. Rest assured, if a new travel ban goes into effect, the group will be there using hip hop as a rallying cry for the people, reiterating the same message they ended their Grammy performance with.
As they raised clenched fists in the air they echoed one word: resist.