Elevated to the status of gods thanks to their 1990s run, A Tribe Called Quest’s legacy amounts to a mostly pristine pinnacle in a youth-driven genre where elders are known to eventually disappoint. Thus, news of them stepping back up to bat within months of co-captain Phife Dawg’s earthly departure was met with concurrent excitement and skepticism.
Despite their catalog arguably lacking major missteps, the greatest concern about their latter day reunion was the possibility of technological advances randomly inserting the Five Foot Assassin’s ghost over beats he never physically rapped on à la 2Pac and Biggie’s posthumous works. Moreover, if a new album was done in secrecy, would Q-Tip and Phife’s once dynamic chemistry still exist 18 years removed from their originally planned finale, The Love Movement?
Keeping the spirit of Phife’s smugly dry sarcasm alive, the title We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service suggests A Tribe Called Quest was pursuing a full-fledged return to form before tragedy struck. Honoring their tradition of vocals building up to the opening drum, “The Space Program” is the first time an LP has begun with the two leads reciting in unison as if their brotherly bond was never in question. This different variation on their sound features day one enigmatic member (and sharp MC in his own right) Jarobi White whose first verses within the context of the group appear on We Got It From Here… A perfect summation of the crew’s nearly three-decade-long history, handclaps celebrate the memory of former Tribe producer Jay Dee amidst live instrumentation representing the visionary method Q-Tip begun applying with Kamaal/The Abstract, his first solo journey outside of straightforward Hip Hop.
Musically adventurous and genius yet humble in nature, Q-Tip has somehow always kept a timely finger on the pulse of where culture is and where it ought to be headed. His last release, The Renaissance arrived the day of Barack Obama’s first election, now We Got It From Here… confronts a society that’s abandoned hopes for a sensible democracy in favor of xenophobic celebrity Donald Trump’s rise to power. Though Kamaal Fareed’s universal appeal has never restricted him to a “conscious” label, “We the People….” sounds like an urgent harbinger of the apocalypse. An updated spin on Tribe’s formula, here a dark and heavy bass line runs alongside neck snapping drums as they attack systematic ills from reality television to gentrification and the GOP’s discrimination based around income, race, religion and sexual preference.
Rather than teaming back up to attempt the impossible task of replicating the Golden Age, with We Got It From Here… A Tribe Called Quest finds reenergized chemistry amongst long time familial peers. Back in good graces after a publicized 2011 falling out with his cousin Q-Tip, Consequence’s subdued appearance on “Whateva Will Be” matches the somber state of our present world. The street-oriented “Mobius” gives him greater shine, that is, until Dungeon Dragon variation Busta Rhymes steals the show as he’s historically done when in rare form. Forever indebted to his brethren for a career spawning appearance on “Scenario”, the unofficial member repays the favor in spades exchanging hasty West Indian patois with Phife on “Solid Wall of Sound” over a soft Elton John piano melody. “Dis Generation” is one of the greater highlights, a funky refreshing execution of Tribe’s goal to fuse the past and the future. A trance inducing reminder of their brightest moments, here their core members rap lines together in the vein of Old School rap crews, while Busta once again comes off more inspired than he’d openly admit to being in years.
Unintentionally bridging the mainstream and underground scenes before there was a rift for observers to gripe over, for this final hurrah A Tribe Called Quest welcomes respectable extensions of their lineage from both sides of the field. Reclusive legend Andre 3000 shows up to rouse the youth towards high self-esteem over a light galloping keyboard melody on “Kids…,” a joint effort that meshes vintage Outkast and Q-Tip’s experimentation in recent years. On a far less organic and natural note, 2016 MVP candidate Anderson. Paak’s singing takes up more than half of the allotted time on “Movin’ Backwards.” Also out of place, Native Tongue branch Talib Kweli and modern day reluctant hero Kendrick Lamar assume place filler roles on “The Killing Season” and “Conrad Tokyo” respectively.
Though A Tribe Called Quest’s sixth LP doubles as a public eulogy for Phife Dawg (with his life memorialized on “Lost Somebody” and “The Donald” where he reclaims the name from our unbelievably nominated 45th president), We Got It From Here….Thank You 4 Your Service is a reminder of why they’ve come to be so emphatically renowned worldwide. Routinely creating zen for true lovers of the art, Q-Tip and Phife function around inspiring humanity to push forward while sticking to their guns and never compromising to keep audiences interested. Through thick and thin, Tribe embodies the fully fleshed out idea of the Hip Hop their impassioned audience clamors for: work that’s soulful, thought provoking, and gripping enough to transport minds away from strife to another world sonically.