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The Four Original Tribe Called Quest Members Reunite
Twenty-six years after the release of their debut record, A Tribe Called Quest drop a two-disc and supposedly final album entitled, ‘We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service’. The album assembles the New York collective’s four original members; rapper/producer Q-Tip, DJ/producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad, hip-hop artist Jarobi White and emcee Phife Dawg, who passed away in March this year.
Phife is still heard on the release though, alongside guest artists like Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Andre 3000, Jack White, Elton John and Busta Rhymes. It doesn’t take long to realise that ‘We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service’ is special. Many modern and classic songs preach about the idea of people coming together in harmony, but the tunes on ‘We Got It From Here…’ actually sound like that ideal.
A Peace That Passes All Understanding
A peace that passes all understanding is present right across ‘We Got It From Here…’, it makes the the record feel very inclusive. That sense of collaboration and openness may be its greatest achievement. Despite the album’s often contentious subject matter, ‘We Got It From Here…’ is shrouded in a celebratory spirit of the group’s legacy.
The LP feels musical, like it was made by genuine music lovers. Not just hip-hop lovers, but music lovers, who happen to perform hip-hop. Alongside frequent collaborator Busta Rhymes, the Tribe's rap skills impact masterfully. Thankfully, after more than two decades in rap, the boys still sound fresh. It seems A Tribe Called Quest have benefited from not having anything left to prove in the hip-hop industry.
The Impeccable, Versatile Q-Tip
Between the bouncy beats of highlight ‘Black Spasmodic’ and the momentarily trippy ‘Lost Somebody’, rapper/producer Q-Tip is a continuous force throughout the record - he’s impeccable and versatile. Q-Tip’s music production is one of the album’s main attractions. It’s mischievous, diverse and covers a lot of ground. All of this action keeps ‘We Got It From Here…’ challenging.
Q-Tip’s creations don’t pander to today’s trends, so they’re able to distinguish themselves from most of the music out right now. With the eager assistance of today’s biggest music acts, the record is often forward-thinking, despite it’s proudly old-skool sensibilities and presentation.
The Album's Timeless Genre-Bending
A Tribe Called Quest formed at time when music wasn’t so readily categorised, when there was more fluidity between the various genres. A very natural genre-bending approach is heard from the front end of ‘We Got It From Here…’ right through to its back end. The LP’s deep, free-falling mix of music types is what ties it to the late-Eighties/early-Nineties era the most, it's certainly noticeable in today’s comparatively organised music landscape.
That said, ‘We Got It From Here…’ is accessible enough for listeners who’ve never even heard of A Tribe Called Quest to get stuck into. Honestly, listeners won’t need an extensive knowledge of the group’s back catalogue to enjoy it. The boys don’t come across as if they're stuck in their glorious past on the LP. Moreover, the album deserves to transcend music's generational gaps.
Relentlessly Targeting America's Social Issues
‘The Space Program’ hones in on racism and the oppression of black people in the US. Making use of a Black Sabbath sample, ‘We The People….’ goes one further. ‘We The People….’ contains some of the most blatant, unconcealed social commentary around. The track highlights gender inequality and mass gentrification. It also calls attention to the deportation of immigrants, homophobia, Islamophobia and the gap between the rich and the poor - on it’s hooks.
Naturally, ‘We The People….’ is made more pertinent by the recent events in American politics. ‘Solid Wall Of Sound’ features Elton John, and one of many contributions from musician Jack White. Phife Dawg and Busta Rhymes spend a large portion of the track swapping quick-fire lyrics with each other. In honour of Busta Rhymes’ Jamaican roots and Phife’s Trinidadian background, some of them are delivered in patois.
Q-Tip Passes his Hip-Hop Baton to Rap's New School
Busta Rhymes re-appears alongside the Tribe on standout, ‘Dis Generation’. The most enduring thing about the track is how brilliantly Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Jarobi and Busta swap and jump in on each other’s lines. It’s done with the kind of chemistry that can only be crafted over many years. The gang of emcees sound like a real force, as if they’re all exactly on the same page. Q-Tip very notably uses ‘Dis Generation’ to essentially pass his rap baton on to four younger rappers who he feels are keeping the original spirit of hip-hop alive today. The emcees named by him on the track are: Joey Bada$$, Earl Sweatshirt, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole.
Andre 3000 Reconnects with His Younger Self
Andre 3000 and Q-Tip unite for, ‘Kids…’, which is out-the-box and irregularly presented. Both men sound comfortable alongside each other, and like they are having fun with the tune. Q-Tip’s entertainingly odd murmurings are precisely performed. The rappers spit lyrics from their younger selves’ point of view and encourage the youth of today to remember that their own parents were once children. ‘Melatonin’ introduces a little romance to the record, and features vocals from Marsha Ambrosius and Abbey Smith. Initiated by catchy, call and response sections, ‘Melatonin’ is a chilled, R&B/soul-singed, sexy effort.
A Tribe Called Quest Get Personal
The laid-back ‘Enough!!’ also spreads the love, and is supported by a dreamy, eased instrumental. Both Jarobi and Q-Tip deliver sensual bars that describe them getting intimate with the women in their lives. In addition to the tune’s hook, Q-Tip’s verse hints at how the demands of being a musician have kept him from being fully present in his personal relationships.
Standout ‘Mobius’ merges the two very different rap styles and personalities of Consequence and Busta Rhymes. It’s a great introduction to the album’s second playlist. Careening through a horde of topics and observations, Consequence concretely sets the song’s pace.mNonetheless, Busta Rhymes soon steals the spotlight with an extended dose of combustable rap lyrics. As the emcees lay down their verses, they both manage to slickly navigate the instrumental’s fascinating mutations.
Less Is More For Kanye West
Supported by mournful, melodic loops, highlight ‘The Killing Season’ features Talib Kweli, Consequence and Kanye West. West is only heard on the song’s memorable hook - however in this case, less is more. Packed with bleak military references, ‘The Killing Season’ probes the issue of black soldiers, war veterans and political leaders being mistreated because of their race.
"Lost Somebody" Pays Tribute to the Late Phife Daw
‘Lost Somebody’ sentimentally muses on the passing of Tribe member Phife Dawg, the track’s lyrics can feel devastatingly personal. Featuring a sweet hook from Katia Cadet, ‘Lost Somebody’ acutely channels the lingering sense of disbelief that accompanies the unforeseen passing of a loved one. Tribe emcees Q-Tip and Jarobi still seem a little shellshocked about their loss on the record. Jarobi spits, “Never thought that I would be ever writing this song, hold friends tight, never know when those people are gone”.
Anchored by delicious, rugged guitar work and featuring singer/songwriter Anderson .Paak, ‘Moving Backwards’ is a highlight. The tune is laced with carefree and immaculate musical touches from producer Q-Tip. Paak contributes a range of moreish harmonies as the song closes out.
Kendrick Lamar Guests Stars on "Conrad Tokyo"
The cosmic combination of rapper Kendrick Lamar and Phife Dawg takes centerstage on ‘Conrad Tokyo’. The outlandish rap tune pointedly targets America’s social-economic problems. Meanwhile within the cut’s background, producer Q-Tip messes around with experimental ideas before ushering in several loose, artistic music breaks. Jack White pops up again on ‘Ego’, which explores the precarious nature of the human persona. Spitting about the mental anguish the ego creates, Q-Tip’s worked up, anxious lyrics are reflected in the tune’s trapped, repetitive and frenzied setup.
Sidestepping Trump for Phife Dawg
Inexplicably, finale ‘The Donald’ has nothing to do with President Donald Trump - it’s wholly dedicated to the memory of Phife Dawg. Along with a variety of adventurous, intricate musical interludes, ‘The Donald’ climaxes with further singing from Katia Cadet. The cut feels organic, unprocessed and unrehearsed. It cements the entire album’s reverence for the Tribe’s much-missed, but clearly not forgotten Phife Dawg.
Verdict: ********* 9.5/10
Shawn McCconnell from Mississauga, Ontario on November 16, 2016:
Will Have to get the LP now