I’m consistently surprised at how often different types of entertainment in my life overlap. For instance, I could be watching a movie- any movie- and recognize one of the actors from this other thing, and I’m immediately on imdb researching said actor until I’m down an internet rabbit hole. I can have a song stuck in my head, then- poof!- it comes on the radio in the car or a public place, even if it’s a song I hadn’t heard in years. I’ve spotted a painting without knowing the artist, then see an article on their work.
At the office, and scientifically, it’s called having your reticular activating system turned on. It’s the reason why you’ll buy a new car, then suddenly see it everywhere. It’s why those who are more optimistic find more good in everyday life than those who don’t. What you focus on expands.
Just a week or so before we left for New York, I finished reading Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest by Hanif Abdurraqib, a thoughtful look at Tribe’s arrival into hip-hop, spearheaded by a sudden onset of crews in the rap game, including Native Tongues, Wu-Tang, and N.W.A, perspectives on the East Coast/West Coast rivalry, and how- after the death of Tribe member Phife Dawg and the 2016 election, ATCQ released what could be considered their best album, We Got it From Here…. Thank You 4 Your Service.
With mention in the book about the iconic Source Magazine cover in 1998 featuring Tribe’s members shrouded in black, only Q-Tip looking at the camera, and with the first and most popular release from We Got it From Here… being the song “We The People,” my reticular activator was wide open, a perfect way to walk through Nari Ward’s We The People exhibit at the New Museum in New York.
Between the exhibit’s signature piece and the video installation Father and Sons (in which three men faced a jury, down-eyed behind a podium), I saw so many parallels between Nari Ward’s work and the decades-long career of the music of A Tribe Called Quest. For days after- including during an 11-mile hike through the Upper East Side later in the week- I turned to old school hip-hop in my headphones, almost visualizing lyrics as mirrored by Nari’s work… We The People, the massive piece built from shoestrings found in Harlem backdropped against Q-Tip’s slightly nasal, very philosophical lyrics.
Personally, I believe this is what makes art art… That moment when a painting reminds you of a person, or a song reminds you of a sculpture. The passion and love I have for the arts is present every day as soon as one turns on the radio or opens a magazine… all we have to do is keep our eyes open.