A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ) mean a lot of things to a lot of people. The group was formed in 1985 with original members Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Their status as a uniquely positive, innovative force in the “Golden Age” of rap is beyond reproach, which is why the death of Phife Dawg this year shocked many hip hop enthusiasts profoundly. On March 22, at only 45 years old, Malik Izaak Taylor was pronounced dead due to complications caused by diabetes, seemingly closing the door on an already unlikely reunion. It seemed improbable that an ATCQ reunion would survive the loss of one of the most influential MCs of the era, but the verses he recorded for the project before his passing show that, lyrically, Phife never lost his touch. Announced only a week before its Nov. 11 release, We Got It From Here . . . Thank You 4 Your Service arrived as a total surprise, and shows that ATCQ still has much to offer.
In large part tribute to the recently deceased Five Foot Assassin (aka Phife Diggy, the Di-Dawg, Donald Juice, The Five Footer, etc.), this long awaited reunion LP is capable of reducing listeners to tears and stirring rebellion. In a divisive time in American history, the Tribe’s voice of unity, peace, and love for one another carries as much weight as ever with some more explicitly political bars than in their early work.
In the dumpster fire of a year that has been 2016, We Got It From Here . . . emerges as both a comforting hand on the shoulder, and a voice urging protest. The interplay between bittersweet nostalgia and political outrage is readily evident in album opener, “The Space Program.” The song describes white people escaping an ecologically destroyed Earth for Mars and leaving PoC communities behind. As the cautious jazz rap keys kick in underneath Phife and Q-Tip’s acappella introduction, it’s tough not to feel emotional; however, the pair’s sure-handed and complementary flows quickly steer the song in a consciously political direction. Jarobi White, an intermittent contributor to ATCQ, outlines: “They planning for our future / none of our people involved.”
The Tribe’s innovative use of sampling is featured prominently on the album. “We The People . . .”, an instant banger, utilizes a Metallica drum sample in its righteous fury against the rise of white supremacy in America. “Solid Wall of Sound,” featuring Busta Rhymes, expertly appropriates a classic rock staple in vintage Tribe fashion, looping Elton John’s vocals and the song’s signature swaggering drums. Despite its success in recapturing the jubilant crate-digging mentality of the early 90s, to call the group’s final statement “nostalgic” would be reductive. ATCQ’s style and contributions to the rap industry are timeless.
The introduction of Jarobi White—credited as Jarobi—to the microphone is one of many new pieces in play on the Tribe’s swan song. Jarobi’s verses serve as a breath of air from Tip’s sometimes smothering singular vision. Alongside a plethora of contributors, he ensures the album’s essential collective spirit. Of course, there aren’t many artists who would decline an opportunity to collaborate on a final ATCQ album, but We Got It From Here…’s credits—including Jack White, Kanye West, Andre 3000, Kendrick Lamar, and more—instantly inspire excitement.
Looking beyond the star-studded cast, the album never loses sight of its purpose as the final Tribe record. The ghost of Phife Dawg looms large over the album’s sprawling sixteen tracks. One can appreciate the cautious hand of Q-Tip in preserving the spirit of Phife’s rhymes throughout the lengthy mixing process preceding its release eight months after his death. The differences that once drove the pair apart are brushed aside. When Phife’s idiosyncratic Patois/Queens accent interplays with Tip’s perpetually cool, nasally delivery, it feels like 1991 again.
With so much expectation heaped on this unlikely comeback, there was ample opportunity for the album to disappoint. However, Phife, Tip, Jarobi, Shaheed, and the album’s myriad contributors ensure that it stands up with the rest of the Tribe’s seminal catalogue. Jubilant, tear-jerking, and inspiring, We Got It From Here . . . Thank You 4 Your Service is an expansive and complete experience. Though Phife gestures towards passing the torch to the next generation of rappers on standout “Dis Generation,” this is not an album people will be forgetting any time soon.