A Tribe Called Quest
We Got It from Here … Thank You 4 Your Service (released November 11, 2o16)
If we ever needed the healing power of music, Lord knows we need it now.
2016 has an avalanche of disappointments. Cultural pioneers like Prince and Muhammad Ali are leaving us seemingly weekly. Irresponsible lawmakers turn cities like Flint, Mich., into third world countries by depriving them of basic human needs. Racial tensions have escalated so drastically that news of unarmed police shootings and the defacing of property with racist imagery is met with bored shrugs.
And mere days ago, the most divisive presidential campaign in my lifetime ended with a misogynistic, racist blowhard claiming the most powerful seat on the planet.
2016 can catch both of these hands.
But despite all that, the improbable occurred.
Months after the death of Phife Dawg – yet another victim of 2016’s wrath – fellow members of A Tribe Called Quest announced that the group had one last album in them, one that was recorded before Phife lost his bout with diabetes.
Another Tribe album seemed like a pipe dream. While Tribe is unquestionably one of the greatest collectives in hip-hop history – who all but reinvented the genre in the early 90s with their blend of jazzy production and melodic lyrics – their later years were plagued with infighting and dissension. We all pretty much assumed that their 1998 album The Love Movement was the end of their story.
Well, scratch that. We Got It from Here … Thank You 4 Your Service is Tribe’s true final chapter – one that provides closure for both the iconic group and their legions of fans.
Not only that, it’s the album hip-hop desperately needs right now.
Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Phife and, yes, even Jarobi White are back for one last shot at glory, bringing with them the jazzy, eclectic sounds that made them legends.
Never fear, this isn’t a cheap cash featuring aging rappers stumbling over flavor-of-the-month production. This sounds and feels authentic to its core. It’s the Tribe you know and love.
Hip-hop has always been a product of its environment, and considering America’s current social climate it’s no surprise that many of the game’s high-profile releases have been fueled by politically charged material. We Got It from Here definitely has a lot to say but, in true Tribe fashion, often uses creative subtlety to land its messages home. “We the People…” peers into inner city blight, describing life in the hood as a fishbowl until developers “gentrify here, now it’s not a s***hole.” And if you miss the message, Tip is happy to lay it down quite flat:
All you Black folks, you must go
All you Mexicans, you must go
And all you poor folks, you must go
Muslims and gays, boy, we hate your ways
So all you bad folks, you must go
Not to be outdone, Phife makes his presence known early on, stealing the show on “The Space Program” with a captivating outro:
Time to go left and not right
Gotta get it together forever
Gotta get it together for brothers
Gotta get it together for sisters
For mothers and fathers and dead n***s
For non-conformers, won’t hear the quitters
For Tyson types and Che figures
Let’s make somethin’ happen, let’s make somethin’ happen
Let’s make somethin’ happen, let’s make somethin’ happen
Phife will never be known as master lyricist (though he does deliver some of his best work on this album) but what he lacks in wordplay he makes up with emotion. There’s passion and intent in every syllable so his bars resonate. Lyrical gymnastics don’t automatically make you a great MC.
As typical for a Tribe album, the soundscapes really steal the show. “Solid Wall of Sounds” is a sonic buffet, with booming drums, guitar licks and heavenly keys initially contrasting but eventually gelling. “Black Spasmodic” has hints of riddims while the soul-drenched “Melatonin” seems like it was plucked from Tip’s The Renaissance album.
The haunting street grit of “Mobius” is straight out of 1994, giving longtime Tribe collaborator Busta Rhymes a chance to flex his throwback Leaders of the New School flow. Even Consequence, who shows up on a couple of tracks throughout, borrows from Mobb Deep’s Prodigy for the score. It’s a fitting tribute.
We Got It from Here really does feel like an all-star rap reunion. Andre 3000 and Tip tag team the beat on “Kids…” while Anderson Paak lends his rasp to “Movin Backwards.” And, as you’d expect by now, Kendrick Lamar outright steals the shown on “Conrad Tokyo,” sounding right at home in the presence of legends.
But make no mistake, despite Talib Kweli and Kanye West stopping by on “The Killing Season,” Jack White’s guitar commandeering multiple tracks and even Elton John of all people appearing on the aforementioned “Solid Wall of Sound,” this is Tribe’s time to shine. “Lost Somebody” is a loving tribute to Phife, with Tip providing heartbreakingly poignant bars:
Malik, I would treat you like little brother that would give you fits
Sometimes overbearing though I thought it was for your benefit
Despite all the spats and s***, cinematically documented
The one thing I appreciate, you and I, we never pretended
“The Donald” then serves as Phife’s farewell address, where he doles out tough love on the art of MC’ing:
Off top on the spot, no reading from your Wackberry
Leave the iPhones home, skill sets must be shown
I’mma show you the real meaning of the danger zone, huh
Phife leaves us exactly how he met us – smiling, nodding in agreement and wanting more.
We Got It from Here … Thank You 4 Your Service is brimming with nostalgia – the album is even separated into an “A” and “B” side as a nod to the cassette era (side B, admittedly is a bit weaker than its predecessor). But this is no mere rehash, this is a celebration of both Phife’s life and Tribe’s enduring legacy. While the album does lose a bit of its cohesion in its second half, it doesn’t greatly hurt the listening experience.
After all, this was a story we weren’t supposed to have, but after the year we’ve had, it’s one we’d gladly accept.
But before Tribe closes the book for the final time, Tip offers this one last truth to a troubled world on “Ego”:
This is the last Tribe and our ego hopes that you felt us
And closing for our ego, we know only God can help us
Best tracks: “Solid Wall of Sound,” “Kids…,” “Conrad Tokyo”
4 stars out of 5