Yeah, well...so did the rest of us. It's true, A Tribe Called Quest did officially disband back in 1998 after the release of The Love Movement due to personal struggles within the group. Each member stood firm on this decision for nearly two decades while nurturing individual pursuits, but it's amazing how circumstances can soothe 18 years worth of tension. Tribe reunited several times in recent years, but it wasn't until last year when they performed together on Fallon that Q-Tip and Phife decided it was time to squash their differences. The next day they began working on an album in secrecy, and almost exactly a year later we received the most opportune injection of therapeutic consciousness in the form of We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service.
They say timing is everything. Unfortunately for A Tribe Called Quest, that sentiment is bittersweet. With issues stemming from the current state of hip hop all the way to Donald Trump inciting hatred and violence from the tone of his campaign, there was no shortage of material from which to pull from. But this album also serves as a vessel for healing in the wake recent events surrounding the legendary Five-Foot Assassin, Phife Dawg, who lost his life before the project was completed. On the surface, there are a lot of red flags working against this album. It's natural to worry about whether we are getting sorry throwaway bars from Phife that he never actually recorded over these beats. It's also not crazy to wonder if any of that classic Low End Theory or Midnight Marauders magic could be re-created after more than two decades. We have seen so many legends act like they've run out of subject matter to talk about because they live different lives. Luckily, A Tribe Called Quest's music was never self-absorbed. Their music was a reflection of the times, and that is no different with We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service.
Let me just start off by saying this album is an absolute banger. Right off the bat, "The Space Program" (re)introduces us to part-time member Jairobi and Q-Tip firing off bars so cleverly crafted that it's hard to believe it's been so long since they last collaborated. This song sets the tone by implying that despite how fucked up things may be in the world, we are all stuck here, so find a way to make the most of it. We only get a taste of Phife's vocals on the 2nd half of this track in the form of a vamp, (probably due to not getting around to recording his verse in time) but the Five-Footer shows up in full force on "We The People." This charged anthem is the perfect blend of classic ATCQ evolved to 2016 standards without an ounce of compromise. In addition to other standouts such as "Solid Wall of Sound," "The Donald" and "Black Spasmodic," these songs all exemplify what could have been, had Phife Diggy been around to see this project through to completion. With that said, it's a shame just how few songs Phife was able to lay down vocals for on this album. A ton of credit goes to Q-Tip for putting it all on his own shoulders and crafting such a fantastic product despite the gaping chasm left behind by Phife. You barely notice his scarcity though, because the void is filled with long-time collaborators Busta Rhymes and Consequence on several tracks, as well as other notable features such as André 3000 on "Kids" and Kendrick Lamar on "Conrad Tokyo." This album is filled to the brim with nothing but straight conscious, soul-soothing hip hop.
I could have done without Consequence though. He sucks. Fuckin' cornball ass mouth-breather spittin Fisher Price bars amongst GODS. I don't care about his history with Tribe, he doesn't deserve this honor. His fake teeth get in the way of everything. I swear this man sounds like he raps with a mouth-guard on. I'd rather listen to Praswell's Greatest Hits than hear another Consequence verse in my life.
To our benefit, much like the dearth of verses from Phife Dawg, Consequence's shitty contributions do not disrupt the flow of this album in the slightest. We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service is quite possibly Tribe's most cohesive project to date. It may not have anything as iconic as "Scenario" or "Electric Relaxation," but the consistency from beginning to end makes it extremely accessible. When you think about it, an album is supposed to take you on a ride. If not, it might as well be a mixtape.
This album accomplishes three things, some of which are evident in the title itself. First, the album was designed to address several social issues and injustices plaguing the Black community in recent years, as well as the heavily polarizing election season. We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service is also a passing of the torch to the younger generation of emcees that are cut from that ATCQ cloth. And lastly, the latter half of the album serves as somewhat of a rhythmic eulogy to the late great Phife Dawg, whom Jairobi stated literally gave his life to create this record. The production on the heartfelt "Lost Somebody" includes some creative choices that may go over the head of the casual listener. The beat itself loses its focus during the hook around the 2:10 mark, almost like it's trying to hold it together emotionally while the words 'no more crying' continue to vamp. Also, the song cuts off abruptly around the 3:22 mark, possibly signifying Phife's sudden death on March 22nd (3/22). In a lot of ways, this album is comfort food for those of us still reeling from a brutal year that tested our resilience as a culture. While slamming the door shut on 2016, songs like "Dis Generation" open another door to let us know the future of hip hop is in good hands.
stayfly's 2 cents