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A Tribe Called Quest Give a Wake-Up Call on 'We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service'



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Epic
Epic

A Tribe Called Quest is giving a wake-up call to America on their new album, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service, a dedication to a fallen soldier while at its core a celebration of family and teamwork. The project finds the group retaining their classic sound with lyrics of the times.

“Gotta get it together forever/Gotta get it together for brothers/Gotta get it together for sisters,” Q-Tip and Phife Dawg chant on “The Space Program,” the first selection upon pressing play. Those initial lines may be aimed at the country as a whole, but they’re also symbolic of Q-Tip and Phife Dawg’s own complex relationship. Their friendship and working relationship began to implode during the recording of 1996’s Beats, Rhymes and Life, marking 1998’s The Love Movement as their last intended hurrah.

Eight months of idle behavior is more than enough for any hot rapper of the moment to trend toward the brink of obscurity, let alone 18 years, especially in the world of rap where art has become as disposable as ever. Eighteen years is the long stretch of time ATCQ has left the people waiting. However, if anyone would have the gall and cache to pull a Guns N’ Roses move and put music fans in a rabid frenzy after nearly two decades dormant by simply announcing a release date, it would be Tribe, one of the definitive acts in the history of rap.

Unfortunately, the untimely death of Phife Dawg in March would wreck the group’s plans for the all-inclusive reunion they had originally hoped for, but in a show of solidarity in the name of Phife, the rest of the Tribe pressed forward with the project, resulting in possibly their most explosive effort since their seminal 1993 release, Midnight Marauders. While the new album does seem like a family affair, Q-Tip and Jarobi White are missing another important piece to the Tribe tree: Ali Shaheed Muhammad. His work creating music for Netflix’s Luke Cage kept him from the new album studio sessions.

But the missing elements don’t make the project falter. Phife is featured on multiple selections throughout We got it from here… Thank You 4 Your service, however, the spots in which he’s absent are compensated for with recurring appearances from erstwhile group member Consequence, who rode shotgun on Beats, Rhymes and Life.

Cons turns in a dominant showing on this album as well as the enigmatic Jarobi, who makes his first appearance alongside his Queens brethren on wax. Appearing in early Tribe videos like “Can I Kick It” and “Bonita Applebum,” Jarobi’s role was once indistinguishable, even to the group, but his contributions complete the cypher and makes We got it from here… Thank You 4 Your service a true family affair.

Kicking off with “The Spaceship Program,” Q-Tip stays true to form from the get, flexing Tribe’s muscle as one of the strongest brands in rap while lamenting shady industry practices. Jarobi also delivers a verse filled with socio-political commentary with lines like “Pouring Henny and Smirnoff to get it cracking off/Cracking off a Smirnoff to quickly turn to Molotov/Molotov the spaceship doors before that bitch is taking off/It always seems the poorest persons/Are people forsaken, dawg,” which makes it evident that his inclusion isn’t based strictly off nepotism, but actual lyrical aptitude.

A Tribe Called Quest may have a penchant for bucking and challenging the status quo, but appear to also be resigned to the fact that reality should be faced head-on. Lines like “There ain’t a space program for niggas/Yeah, you stuck here nigga” support this train of thought. That theme is one that is prevalent throughout many of the selections on We got it from here… Thank You 4 Your service, including “We the People,” an examination of the current race and class war engulfing the world today.

“All you Black folks, you must go/All you Mexicans, you must go/And all you poor folks, you must go/Muslims and gays, boy, we hate your ways,” Q-Tip raps, reiterating the ethos of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. This continues the album’s goal of mirroring the life and times of present-day America.

Powered by a sample of Black Sabbath’s “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” “We the People” features an ample dosage of Phife Dawg, who turns in his first verse on the album in riveting fashion. Displaying his signature cocky nature, the Five-Footer raps “The Tribe be the best in they division/Shaheed Muhammad cut it with precision/Who can come back years later, still hit the shot?.” He waste no time bigging-up his clique and their ability to perform at a higher level without missing a beat.

Phife continues to wow posthumously on “Whateva Will Be,” which features the nucleus of A Tribe Called Quest all on the same track for the first time. “Am I ‘posed to be dead or doin’ life in prison?/Just another dummy caught up in the system/Unruly hooligan who belongs in Spofford/Verse getting that degree at Stanford or Harvard?” the Funky Diabetic delivers, giving a glimpse into a young Black male’s view of society and its shortsighted expectations of him. Delivering a standout stanza of his own, Consequence also comes equipped with firepower. “I just wanna feel as liberated as lions in Liberia/’Cause recently my heart turned cold as Siberia,” he rhymes, providing an anchor of a verse.

With the album’s production helmed by Q-Tip, We got it from here… Thank You 4 Your service is exactly what a longtime Tribe fan would expect from a sonic aspect, while simultaneously sounding nothing like any A Tribe Called Quest release to date. This is evident on “Solid Wall of Sound,” which includes contributions from Elton John on the keys, and Jack White on guitar. White provides the song’s hook and bridge, further upping his stock with the avant-garde hip-hop sect.

“Conrad Tokyo” is another departure from the tried and true Tribe sound, as is “Dis Generation,” a breezy offering that finds Tip and Phife vibing off each other atop samples of Musical Youth’s “Pass the Dutchie” and Can’s “Halleluhwah.” Q-Tip passes the torch to Joey Bada$$, Earl Sweatshirt, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole and pegs them the new “gatekeepers of flow” — an extension of the Native Tongue sound. By doing so, he pays homage to the current generation and does his own diligence in bridging the gap between the new school and true school on We got it from here… Thank You 4 Your service.

Evidence of tightening this gap can be found on “Movin Backwards,” a guitar-driven salvo that includes an appearance from Anderson .Paak. He shines with a hook and verse, sandwiched in between 16s courtesy of Jarobi and Q-Tip, before sending the track home with additional stylings. Kendrick Lamar, whose album, To Pimp a Butterfly, Q-Tip revealed was an inspiration for We got it from here… Thank You 4 Your service lends his talents to “Conrad Tokyo,” an off-kilter cut that features a lead-off verse from Phife, and a guitar solo by Jack White to bookend the proceedings.

The final installment in the A Tribe Called Quest legacy, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service would not be complete without a few of their extended family members partaking in the special occasion. Q-Tip matches wits with Andre 3000 on the rambunctious “Kids…,” while Talib Kweli and Kanye West provide reinforcement on the album highlight “The Killing Season.”

One guest on the album that should please ATCQ loyalists is Busta Rhymes, who is as integral to the Tribe legacy as anyone outside of the group’s nucleus. Famously jumpstarting his solo career with his iconic verse on “Scenario,” Busta appears on four tracks from the album: “Solid Wall of Sound,” “Dis Generation,” “Mobius” and “The Donald.” His most riveting performance comes on “Mobius,” on which he channels the same energy that marked his ascent 25 years ago.

Other costars on We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service include vocalists Marsha Ambrosius and Abbey Smith on the soulfully addictive “Melatonin,” and Katia Cadet on the heartfelt Phife Dawg dedication, “Losing Somebody.” Q-Tip, along with Jarobi, pull no punches about their oft-strained relationship. “Malik, I would treat you like little brother that would give you fits/Sometimes overbearing though I thought it was for your benefit/Despite all the spats and shits and thematically documented/The one thing I appreciate, you and I, we never pretended,” he raps, eulogizing their late group mate in what serves as one of the most solemn, yet poignant moments on the project.

Essential as the sums of its parts may be, the straw that ultimately stirs the magical elixir that A Tribe Called Quest have brewed over the years is Q-Tip, who turns in superb lyrical performances throughout the album, but manages to outdo himself with on “Ego.” An examination of the human ego, its benefits and downsides, The Abstract presents his hypothesis, before giving various scenarios in which the ego can aid or cripple. Shades of past Tribe classics like “Sucka Nigga” can be hear on “Ego,” which is quintessential Tribe and undoubtedly one of the selections from the album that will remain relevant beyond its years.

Hip-hop has locked itself into a constant cycle of evolution since its inception. With new wrinkles seemingly added at a whim, capturing the zeitgeist of society and urban culture remains paramount to the artform, and few albums have been able to uphold that tradition like We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service, this year. While it arrives at the tail end of 2016, which proved to be a tumultuous year focused on hot-button issues of police brutality, economic strife, social media activism and the presidential election, the album manages to encompass and convey the vibe of the country.

At its core, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service is equal parts a wake-up call to America as it is a dedication to a fallen soldier. Phife Dawg may no longer be with us in the flesh, but his spirit, and the A Tribe Called Quest legacy, shall remain forever.

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