Artist: A Tribe Called Quest
Title: We Got It from Here, Thank You 4 Your Service
Release Date: November 11th, 2016
Label: Epic Records
The story of A Tribe Called Quest ended on a rather depressing note in 2016 with the loss of dear member Phife Dawg.
A release of their sixth and last album We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service any time this year, 18 years after their previous, would’ve been a touching gesture with that in mind.
The album ended up following Donald Trump’s win in the presidential election, a result that went against the favors of not only the members of Tribe — Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi — but also countless minorities in America. The roster of invited guests as well as Phife’s voice heard throughout the album prove this was not an overnight job. Yet the topics discussed are so prescient to the release week’s events, it was only right for it to come out the week it did. What could’ve been a small tribute to a fallen member became something much bigger than the group itself.
While Tribe is typically known to push a positive attitude in their music, they’ve also explored cynicism of power before. Low End Theory shares Q-Tip’s famous industry rule #4080: record company people are shady. And the effects of a shady industry left the group in a much darker place in Beats, Rhymes & Life. For one, their single was called “Stressed Out,” a gloomy introspection as the title suggests.
Considering the climate of present day, a similarly pessimistic path of Beats, Rhymes & Life sounds like a natural one for Tribe to explore again for We Got It From Here… And rightfully, some anger spills on wax. Once the group’s voice of chill, Q-Tip shouts frustrations of racism and classism in “We the People…” over the harshest drums the group has programmed. “All you black folks, you must go… All of you, Mexicans, you must go… All of you poor folks, you must go…” goes the song’s chorus, one sang not so differently by the supporters of the new president-elect.
While “We the People…” reflects the attitude of those who are hurt from the men now officially in power, We Got It from Here… has a different, more inspiring goal in mind than simply exhuming personal angst and anxiety. Q-Tip and Phife Dawg chant in unison “let’s make something happen” in the opener track “The Space Program” after being split for 18 years. And throughout the album, Tribe put aside ego, personal history and legacy to move forward for a cause bigger than the group.
At best, that something is providing a series of voices that understands. While Tribe is lost for a solution as anyone, an assurance of understanding is all it needs to be during these tumultuous times. Q-Tip sticks to his tried-and-true, freestyle-born delivery, which makes his laments come off sometimes scattershot, meandering in thought while off-top rhymes tie loose ends. But it stands in as more of a true response to such a state of shock than careful prose, and it’s a reflection of anyone struggling to collect a solid thought.
Their guests share the same head space as they lend their hand to help Tribe make something happen. Andre 3000 does away with hope and role models as he repeatedly warns “kids, don’t you know how all this shit is a fantasy?” through the intercom. Kanye West reminds “they sold ya” through song like a nursery rhyme. His voice sings like the rest of the voices, like he predicted this exactly.
Big as some of these names may be, the list of extended family members heard on the record should not come off entirely as a surprise. Though he’s an entire generation apart from Tribe, Kendrick Lamar has already earned his stripes as a torchbearer of the Native Tongues before he shared a record with Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad. The more important part here is the peaceful transition of power between generations. There’s no hierarchy based on tenure. Everyone here sounds equally a part of the mission of A Tribe Called Quest, no matter which era they belong in.
The lack of ego remains intact between the original members as well. It’s a joy to hear a classic back-and-forth interaction between the rappers with each sharing spaces and trading lines. A shining voice here is Jarobi, whose nimble voice assumes a role more familiar to Phife Dawg, the humorous, laid-back foil to Q-Tip’s more head-in-the-clouds raps. In fact, the role between the main two seems to have switched. The gravelly rasp of Phife brings Q-Tip’s squeaky stream of consciousness back to earth.
Tribe refer to their own legacy exactly once. For “Enough!!,” DJ Scratch cuts the springy riff from Rotary Connection’s “Memory Band,” famously sampled in the group’s “Bonita Applebum.” But it’s the scratch in “The Donald” that sticks out most in We Got It from Here… Scratch mixes a soundbite of the first half of the track’s namesake — yes, the president-elect — in the album’s final song.
Interestingly, the song is also a dedication to Phife Dawg, but it’s how the present is, isn’t it? A group of friends cannot spend time with their treasured past because the peace of the present is threatened. It’s only right, then, that Phife sets the album’s motto which echoes as the reason for the record’s existence: got to get it together for brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers, dead and alive. And his friends honored that every step of the way.