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A Tribe Called Quest's Last Video Paints A Grim, Gripping Reality

A Tribe Called Quest recontextualizes "The Space Program" with a conceptual look at the future.
Apple Music/screenshot by NPR
A Tribe Called Quest recontextualizes "The Space Program" with a conceptual look at the future.

When A Tribe Called Quest released We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service days after the November 2016 presidential election, it felt as if the group had recorded the album in a prescient state.

The death of Phife Dawg eight months earlier had come in the middle of making their first album in 18 years. Yet his transition ran parallel to the political upheaval afoot as Barack Obama's presidency gave way to a campaign season that dragged all of America's ugly skeletons of racial and gender bias back to the forefront.

The LP that practically predicted the election day outcome gets a new visual today, and it's being billed as ATCQ's final video. It's for "The Space Program," the first — and possibly the most political — song on the album rife with deep sociopolitical context. Directed by Warren Fu, it's a high-concept short film that propels present-day phenomena — from the racially-charged displacement of inner-city gentrification to the police killings of unarmed African-Americans — into a grim Afrofuturist reality in which the "space program" is really code for the systematic removal of black people.

Q-Tip, Jarobi and Ali Shaheed Muhammad are found seemingly captive on a spaceship to nowhere, while Phife's presence is represented by a glowing sphere-like oracle. The video climaxes with cameos from Erykah Badu, Black Thought, Vince Staples, Pharrell, Common, Talib Kweli, Questlove, Rosario Dawson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Kelly Rowland and Doug E. Fresh.

The full eight-minute video for "The Space Program" premieres exclusively on Apple Music. It's one among thousands of music videos added to the ad-free subscription service today as an extension of its digital music catalog.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rodney Carmichael is NPR Music's hip-hop staff writer. An Atlanta-bred cultural critic, he helped document the city's rise as rap's reigning capital for a decade while serving on staff as music editor, culture writer and senior writer for the defunct alt-weekly Creative Loafing.