An 18-year absence from hip-hop and the untimely death of group member Phife Dawg this past March made the prospect of another Tribe Called Quest album seem far-fetched. However, the group that dominated much of the 1990s with their Afrocentric fusion of jazz and rap still managed to deliver one last album that will go down as one of 2016’s best releases.
A Tribe Called Quest could have easily crafted an album that catered to their older fans or to those yearning for the nostalgic comeback of the “golden days of hip hop.” They could have relied heavily on the 90s boom bap productionwith their signature use of jazz and simply contemporized one of their classic albums like The Low End Theory or Midnight Marauders. Instead, they went back to the drawing board and combined slivers of their past releases with a more modern sound, while staying true to their roots. We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service showcases a new inventiveness to the group’s artistry.
We Got it From Here is an album that doesn’t mince words. The album begins with “The Space Program,” a quintessential Tribe song that could have been released as a single to tide fans over for years to come. Easily one of the best intro songs to any album this year, its political overtones only add to the magic. Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, whose verses were all recorded shortly before his death, and Jarobi rap over this effortlessly as a single unit. The song transitions comfortably into the equally political, “We The People…,” which begins with a verse from Q-Tip. He raps about the lack of progress minorities have made in the U.S., dropping lines like, “we don’t believe you cause we the people are still here in the rear, ayo, we don’t need you.” Continuing the message Q-Tip adds a sing song hook, “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,” echoing the mantra of Trump and company. “We The People…” is the most culturally significant song of 2016.
ATCQ “We the People”
A few songs later the dream of all hip-hop heads comes to life. On “Kids…” Andre 3000 and Q-Tip unremittingly trade verses in a tag-team style for nearly four minutes over a driving beat that’s just as unrelenting. The pace slows during the retrospective “Lost Somebody,” a song about loss and an unofficial ode to the life of Phife Dawg. Listening to Q-Tip and Jarobi remember their brother brings listeners back down to earth. As the song’s last chorus hits there is a moment of silence that cements the fact that this is truly the end of A Tribe Called Quest. An uplifting Anderson .Paak feature on “Movin’ Backwards” is almost enough to restore spirits. “Conrad Tokyo” is up next, one of the many standout tracks on the album. Kendrick Lamar and Phife Dawg trade verses commenting on the current state of America through political and economic lenses. The only downfall of this song is that both rappers’ verses are short leaving listeners hungering for more. The song ends with a psychedelic guitar solo from Jack White who can also be heard on other tracks throughout the album.
The album closes with “Ego” and “The Donald.” “Ego” starts with the pizzicato plucking of Jack White’s guitar and the foreboding tremolo of a stringed instrument putting listeners in Dorothy’s ruby-red shoes right before the tornado hits in The Wizard of Oz. Q-Tip then bursts onto the scene rapping about the threatening nature of the ego and finishes his verse with, “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.” “The Donald,” is the true tribute to the life and legacy of Phife Dawg. Busta Rhymes, Phife himself and Q-Tip all drop a verse over the funky production filled with more psychedelic interjections from Jack White and Louis Cato on guitar. By choosing to recognize Phife by his nickname, “The Donald,” the group also subtly rejects Trump as “The Donald.” The song is a fitting end to both the life of Phife Dawg and A Tribe Called Quest’s last album.
We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service is the most important hip-hop album of the year. It not only concludes the career of A Tribe Called Quest, but also concludes a chapter of hip-hop that might not be revisited for many years to come. The 1990s were undoubtedly the golden age of hip-hop, but they are also officially over. A Tribe Called Quest will live on forever in the hearts of hip-hop fans and in the headphones of music lovers everywhere. R Phife Dawg.