A Fitting Finale to an Incomparable Saga
When A Tribe Called Quest announced their breakup in 1998, coinciding with the release of their acclaimed The Love Movement, fans assumed that they had heard the last from the group. When they reunited as an opening act for Kanye West’s Yeezus Tour in 2013, many assumed that this was a one-off guest spot. When emcee Phife Dawg passed away earlier this year, it seemed assured: A Tribe Called Quest’s emblematic tenure in hip-hop had come to a conclusion.
However, after an eighteen-year hiatus, Tribe is officially back.
We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your service is truly a hip-hop masterpiece, yet another in a series of successes for the space-rap outfit that is A Tribe Called Quest. One might imagine that this sort of punctuative record could function merely as such: a collection of musical leftovers, tossed together for quick dissemination. That couldn’t be less true. We got it from Here provides some of the most politically-minded and cunningly-penned rhymes of the group’s entire catalog. Each emcee is at the top of his game, from the posthumously recorded Malik Taylor (Phife Dawg) to Jarobi to Q-Tip, who undoubtedly emerges as the leader of the act. Even frequent collaborators Consequence and Busta Rhymes provide career highlights in key moments throughout the record. This includes, but is not limited to, the fantastic “Mobius,” which highlights these two guests and kicks off the second half of the album with wonderfully frenetic energy that hearkens back to hip-hop of the ’90s (“I got the half moon clip/that’s banana/a good planner/a new anger like a larger Bruce Banner,” Busta roars).
And though the record was recorded months ago, fate would have it that the release coincided–almost to the hour–with the dawn of a new political era for the United States. Truly, some of the tracks seem eerily clairvoyant. Throughout the record, Q-Tip examines what it means to be unwanted in America, a vibrant hue against the current social backdrop of inflating normative reduction and increasing white nationalism. Particularly noteworthy, in this sense, are the first two songs, “The Space Program” and “We the People…” The latter includes a hook that, though intended to function as hyperbole, sounds uncomfortably familiar in the aftermath of the recent election (“…all you Mexicans, you must go/and all you poor folks, you must go/Muslims and gays, boy we hate your ways…”).
Perhaps one of the most notable facets of this wholly monumental record is its sleek production, delivered in Q-Tip’s and Ali’s signature style. As progenitors of the jazz-rap movement, the ensemble’s influential aesthetic has become a central force within the current realm of commercial music–Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly and Solange’s A Seat at the Table are just two contemporary reminders of this impact. However, in We got it from Here, the listener finds Tribe borrowing from the musical vocabulary of these very successors. The group employs a remarkable sound that straddles modernity and nostalgia, merging the through-composed, binary form favored by Kendrick with the off-kilter syncopation and diametric samples of former collaborator J Dilla. Through the sonic realm of sampled keyboards, effected claps and the occasional distorted guitar (provided by Jack White), Tribe manages to push creative boundaries to their furthest limits while still sounding decidedly like themselves.
Though not completed until after Phife Dawg’s passing, We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your service is rife with his presence. The title itself was Phife’s suggestion, a subject of debate prior to his unexpected departure. And though the album is certainly one that thematically stands on it’s own two feet, Q-Tip, Jarobi and Muhammad absolutely allow the record to pay tribute to Phife’s legacy. On “Black Spasmodic,” Tip speaks to himself through Phife’s voice, assuming his heavenly persona to communicate poignant thoughts and wishes. “Lost Somebody” is a touching tribute, featuring fantastic verses from Tip and Jarobi that document Malik’s life, beginning with the moment that his parents met. The album concludes with the unforgettable “The Donald”–a tribute to Phife and not, as many would expect, to a particular President-elect. For an album so fiercely political, this Malik-centric outro speaks to the duality of the record’s sentiment.
There is no doubt that We got it from Here is far more than a cherry on the top of A Tribe Called Quest’s irrefutable legacy. With Phife’s passing, though, the ensemble doesn’t hesitate to come to grips with their curtain call, and the torch is thus passed to the next generation of emcees. On the record, Q-Tip unabashedly names Joey Bada$$, Earl Sweatshirt, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole as some of his choice protégés –“gatekeepers of flow” and “extensions of instinctual soul,” as he says on “Dis Generation.” And while hip-hop does rest in their capable hands, there is no doubt that Tribe has left behind some massive shoes to be filled.