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Album Review: A Tribe Called Quest, ‘We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

13 November 2016 Music


By: Conor Battles
Album: We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
Artist: A Tribe Called Quest
Label: Epic
Rating:
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photo courtesy of Genius.com

The last time A Tribe Called Quest appeared on television was on an episode of Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show last year. Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Jarobi White and Ali Shaheed Muhammad were touting the stint as their final performance, easing into permanent retirement after a few other sporadic reunion shows dotting the 2010s.

It made sense on the surface. The last Tribe album, the safe and underwhelming The Love Movement, came out in 1998. Strife between Tip and Phife marred the group’s relationship for the last two decades. The modern hip-hop landscape has shifted from the sample-heavy, jazzy boom-bap of The Ummah. A Tribe Called Quest had long since earned the right to step away from the mic.

How much a year can change.

When Phife Dawg passed away at 45 in March due to complications from diabetes, no one knew that the legendary figureheads of the Native Tongues had been recording their final transmission in secret since the night of that Fallon appearance. In essence, We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service is a final, bombastic farewell from both Tribe as a whole and Phife himself.

The specter of The Five-Footer looms over every second of We Got It from Here…, and the verses he recorded before his death are a relentlessly powerful message from the beyond. But just as impactful are the contributions from the rest of the group, as well as the all-star roster of special guests that stopped in to pay their respects to the Tribe. Hearing voices like Andre 3000, Talib Kweli, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, Jack White, Elton John, and longtime Tribe associates Busta Rhymes and Consequence float out of the ether are like unexpected visits from old friends.

That persistent feeling of familiarity is essential to the framework of We Got It from Here… A Tribe Called Quest is one of hip-hop’s most ageless icons; “Award Tour,” Can I Kick It?” and “Bonita Applebum” are time-honored classics, and the group’s breezy, jazzy beats and clever lyricism have survived in the annals of rap history for almost as long as the genre has existed – they don’t need to change much about their style to sound great. Indeed, the sound of the album feels appropriately timeless, mixing Tip’s sampler deck mastery with enough modern production sensibilities to feel thoroughly new and refreshing. Tip’s choices in sampling lead to some of the more pleasant surprises on the album, like hearing Vincent Price’s maniacal laugh from “Thriller” or Elton John’s wails from “Benny and the Jets” pop up.

As impeccable and multifaceted as the production is, the true star of the album is the writing. Hearing Tip, Phife, Jarobi and Busta trade bars is as exciting, funny and poignant as it was decades ago, from the biting and all-too-timely race politics of “We the People” to the treatise on the state of the hip-hop union that is “Dis Generation.” Age has only refined the maturity with which Tribe addresses hot-button political issues, while also adding a touch of veteran wisdom to the comic wit they have always used to cushion their more controversial subjects. But the most endearing lyrical moment of We Got It from Here… is far more personal. “The Donald” (it was a nickname for Phife Dawg long before our President-Elect adopted it) closes out an album full of aggression, social commentary and extrospection with a touching tribute to the fallen MC. It is no coincidence that the last words to ever be spoken on an A Tribe Called Quest album are “Phife Dawg.”

Nearly a year to the day that A Tribe Called Quest began their secret final mission, they returned to television alongside another icon from yesteryear – Dave Chappelle. On an episode of Saturday Night Live dominated by post-election hubris and bittersweet feelings, the most memorable moment came during Tribe’s performance of “We the People,” when Phife Dawg’s voice rang out from the speakers one last time, and Q-Tip pointed his microphone at a ghost.


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