Pressing play to start A Tribe Called Quest’s newest album is like taking a time machine back 18 years, to the last time the sensation of new, unheard Tribe music was felt. The beautiful, musical concoctions that could only be attributed to the crazed-mind of Q-Tip are back and as bold as ever. Each track grooves its way into your head, behind the familiar jazzy aesthetic of previous Tribe albums, laid on a foundation of experimental production that holds it all together. With We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, we get one final album of familiar ATCQ music, at a time in this country when the future is so uncertain.
In 1991, when A Tribe Called Quest’s famous album Low End Theory was released, there was no way anybody could’ve predicted where we’d be at the end of 2016. We went from having the country’s first black president, to having Celebrity Apprentice-star Donald Trump as our president-elect. We watched the Chicago Cubs end a 108-year championship drought to win the World Series and watched Kobe Bryant retire from the NBA. It’s been a weird year and yet here we are, with another classic Tribe album assisted by some old friends and infused with music’s best young talents.
The album channels old favorites like 1992’s cut “Scenario” with appearances from Busta Rhymes on songs like “Dis Generation” and “Solid Wall of Sound.” Andre 3000 also drops in for a guest verse on “Kids,” trading rhymes with Q-Tip for what is undoubtedly every rap nerd’s dream. Stars currently at the forefront of hip-hop also bring their talents to the album. Anderson Paak lends his soulful sound to “Movin Backwards” and on “Conrad Tokyo” Kendrick Lamar tears apart a free-flying Q-Tip beat, following up the late-Phife Dawg’s political commentary that’s unapologetically aimed straight at the forehead of Donald Trump.
“Talk to Joey, Earl, Kendrick, and Cole, gatekeepers of flow/They are extensions of instinctual soul,” Q-Tip raps on “Dis Generation,” citing who he thinks will continue to honor the spirit of hip-hop through the next generation. As much as we’d like them to and honestly need them to, Tribe won’t be producing new music anymore. Phife Dawg is gone, after passing away earlier this year due to complications of diabetes, and others like Q-Tip, have moved on to other endeavors. By mentioning several young artists by name, and featuring others, Tribe is passing on the torch, but not without having their say.
Known for their ability to not only make you dance, but make you think, this album bridges the gap of classic Tribe rhythms and present problems. Songs like “Kids” offer advice from hip-hop old heads for those struggling with the changing country. “Movin Backwards” illustrates an experience of racial profiling by police, at a time when fatal police stops have almost become a daily occurrence, and “We the People…” preaches unity for the Trump campaign’s favorite minority victims. We Got It From Here isn’t a farewell album or a last chance at some quick cash; it’s a message of self assurance at the time we needed it most and a mic-drop on 2016 from some of hip-hop’s greatest. #RIPPhife