Photo from genius.com
by Hunter Frederick
For the first time in 18 years, fans of A Tribe Called Quest will be able to physically purchase the Queens-based hip-hop group’s music on Nov. 18 after its electronic release on Nov. 11.
Not many artists can stir up their fan base and the general public after almost two decades of little to no activity. A Tribe Called Quest, consisting of Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Jarobi White and the late Phife Dawg, formed in 1985 in Queens, New York.
They more or less broke up after the release of “The Love Movement,” purported as their last album. The group cited disagreement between members as the reason for their initial split. Their albums “The Low End Theory” and “Midnight Marauders” are widely considered some of the best albums in hip-hop. After some time and the occasional performance over the years, the group reconciled and began recording their actual final album.
Tribe’s newest record, entitled “We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service,” is about over an hour long. It sports two discs with eight tracks apiece. The album caused a lot of excitement among hip-hop fans. It even piques the interest of those whose tastes lie on the fringes of hip-hop by boasting a list of diverse collaborators like Jack White, André 3000, Elton John, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar and so on.
But the bottom line persists: all those names do not mean jack if the album is garbage. Will the tracks be dope? Will the beats be incredible? Can the Tribe still deliver the lyrical masterpieces that their fans fell in love with a whole 18 years later?
Yes. Yes, undoubtedly they can.
Not only does A Tribe Called Quest deliver, but they show up to your house in only 15 minutes when they said 20, with everything you ordered and a free 2-liter to boot (pun intended).
I highly recommend the album in its entirety to anyone who is a fan of hip-hop or rap. Those who prefer the instrumented beats of Chance the Rapper’s gospel-fueled album “Coloring Book“ or Kendrick Lamar’s jazzy “To Pimp a Butterfly” will especially enjoy this. Even the most fair-weathered hip-hop fan can enjoy at least one track on “We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service.“
Before I get into the specifics of the album’s pros and cons, something, or rather someone, needs to be addressed.
A Tribe Called Quest, its fans and the music world suffered a great loss earlier this year when Phife Dawg passed away due to complications from diabetes.
According to the New York Times, the American music group was already working on “We Got It from Here…” before Phife passed away. The news left the members of the group reeling, especially Q-Tip whose rocky relationship with Phife was well underway. The title, “We Got It from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service,” was Phife’s idea. Although the other members do not know the meaning behind it, it was enforced anyway as a tribute to Phife’s passing.
The members of Tribe never miss an opportunity to honor their fallen brother. When they performed on Saturday Night Live, a large banner featuring Phife Dawg’s face superimposed on artwork from the album unfurled mid-performance as a recording of Phife’s verse for their new song “We the People…” played. The track, “Lost Somebody,” tells the story of Phife in between lamentations and homages from the remaining members. Phife’s work and presence on “We Got It from Here…” is front and center and powerful to boot. I honestly felt something, perhaps his spirit, upon hearing him on the tracks.
Overall, the tracks themselves are phenomenal. Each one stands proudly by itself. Still, the album altogether is nothing short of an experience full of the funky beats and wise wordplay.
The hip-hop group invites you into their latest work from the very first track, “Space Program.” The song begins with a vocal sample and a chant that becomes a call and response between Q-Tip and Phife, their iconic voices playing off of each other. The beat to track slowly sneaks in, first with a little organ behind the aforementioned chant. The organ melody grows more complex until Jarobi White comes in and brings some simple yet effective drums with him. The first track spoke very clearly and the excitement and enjoyment are palpable in the recordings. Sit back, it seems to say, you are in for a treat.
The album puts its words where its words are. The beats and rhythms featured are simple and a pleasure to listen to. It is usually nothing more than some drums, a bass line or organ and the occasional sample or record scratching. Regardless, there is a true beauty in the simplicity because not only does every beat groove extra hard, but the simplicity allows the lyrical genius of A Tribe Called Quest to shine through. Favorites include “Solid Wall of Sound,” “Dis Generation” and “Conrad Tokyo.”
“Solid Wall of Sound” is one of the slower tracks on the album and features Busta Rhymes rhyming in patois as well as work from Elton John and Jack White. It flows beautifully into its neighbor track, “Dis Generation,” which opens forcefully and loudly but quickly reduces to a minimalistic beat, a groovy baseline and a light jazzy guitar. It is within this song A Tribe Called Quest gave their opinions on the state of hip-hop today.
In “Conrad Tokyo,” one of the more politically charged tracks on the album, Phife Dawg and Kendrick Lamar spit back to back over a groovy beat while speaking about the state of our nation, commenting on everything from the election to the questionable success of “mumble rap.”
There is no question in my mind that “We Got It from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service” is a masterpiece. It also has the added benefit of accomplishing what it set out to do.
The tracks are incredibly satisfying. The instrumentation and the beats used have especially captured my attention almost as much as the words spewed over them. If they truly hang it up after this, (which they most likely will out of respect and honor for Phife Dawg), they definitely put their best foot forward. This is a fine album for A Tribe Called Quest to go out on.
Time for a bit of honesty; I only began listening to their music recently after Phife Dawg’s passing. A Tribe Called Quest was just another entry on a very long list of artists for me to check out whenever I had the chance. However, after I started listening to them, I found myself hooked.
There are two kinds of songs to me; the kind where you learn the lyrics by staring at a website or a lyric video for a few reps until you get it and the kind of songs that are so fun to listen to that after a hundred or so plays, you have subconsciously learned every word. A Tribe Called Quest’s music falls into the latter category to me. Their rhyme style is refreshing among the prevalence of mumble rap and its contemporaries. Sorry Lil Yachty; “Broccoli” was lit and all, but still…. The instrument-based groovy beats make it impossible not to bop your head as the hip-hop group rattles off its intelligent, thought provoking lyrics.
Give the “We Got It from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service” a listen; you definitely owe it to yourself.
This article is dedicated to Malik Izaak Taylor a.k.a. Phife, Phife Dawg, The Phifer, Phife Diggy, The Five-Foot Assassin, The Five-Footer, Malik The Five-Foot Freak, The Funky Diabetic, Dynomutt, Mutty Ranks and finally, The Trini-Gladiator. Rest In Power.