“This is the last Tribe, and our ego hopes you felt us.” – Q-Tip, on “Ego”
Last year, rap fans everywhere rejoiced when A Tribe Called Quest performed a tune on The Tonight Show. It was a tiny glimpse into their timeless magic, but left us selfishly hoping for something more. Little did we know that this was just the beginning of a fruitful reunion, though a bittersweet one, considering one of their members would die shortly thereafter.
The good news that arose from the tragically premature loss of Phife, was that the crew had apparently laid enough groundwork to create a new (and final) album, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service. This monumental announcement came just a few weeks ago, and all of us old hip hop kids, who are now middle aged rap historians, held our breaths, while trying not to lose our minds. I personally tried not to get too excited, because I didn’t want to be disappointed, but I couldn’t help contain my giddiness, when I found out that something that they had been working on since last year–but was a secret to most of us–would be released before the end of 2016(!). The time has come, and I’m happy to say that I am far from disappointed. It’s not their best album, but it’s certainly the best one since Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders changed our lives forever, and it’s a fine farewell for the group, as well as a love letter to (and from) Phife. Ultimately, it’s an achievement that they should all be very proud of, and I think Phife would be delighted at the outcome.
There are no true duds on this album. Anything close to filler is saved by exciting asides. There are memorable moments abound here. The recurring surprises are lead by the consistent presence of original core member Jarobi, as well as the unofficial co-fifth Tribe members Consequence, and Busta Rhymes.
“The Space Program” kicks things off in style, with a bouncy, welcoming beat, and it whets your appetite just enough for Phife’s farewell (Award) tour.
“We the People” features a more hardcore drum, blended with smooth synth sounds, as Tribe takes the album’s first full dip into political commentary, tackling topics such as reality shows, sexism, and racism. A highlight is Phife’s best NFL-themed line since Vinny Testaverde retired: “Boy, I tell you that’s vision. Like Tony Romo when he hit Witten.”
“Whateva Will Be” is the first standout track on an album that has a handful of them. Phife is at his finest here, and Consequence also really shines, and is an unsung hero throughout the album. Something about this crew brings out the best in everybody, when everyone is focused. Q-Tip sounds better on this album that he has in over a decade. He still sounds like he’s in his prime, and it makes one wonder what is next for him, and where he has been (relatively) hiding over the last few years.
“Solid Wall of Sound” is definitely my favorite cut, and it might also be the best. It heavily samples “Benny and the Jets”, and at the end of the song, you even get an exhilarating surprise when Elton shows up to riff on his old classic, along with Q-Tip. The track features Tribe’s signature dancehall reggae-inspired vocals (by everyone, including Busta Rhymes’ most dynamic moment in ages. This is exactly what every Tribe fanatic has been waiting for.
The Musical Youth-sampling “Dis Generation” is another great one, and it’s so inspiring to hear Busta comfortably embrace his spot as Tribe’s new almost-member (he always felt like an honorary member anyway), and it’s just mindblowing to hear Phife, Q-Tip, and Rhymes all on the same track in 2016. This is something a lot of us never thought we’d ever get to hear again.
A rejuvenated-sounding Dre from Outkast sounds like he’s been listening to a lot of Danny Brown on “Kids…”, but the song is a bit disjointed, in spite of his solid appearance. The more Abstract elements of Q-Tip’s personality are always welcome, and part of what makes him so appealing, but it makes certain songs sound a bit direction-less at times. But nothing here sounds too out of place, and everything sounds refreshing, even though this is their most politically charged album ever, which in the wrong hands, might not have worked so well.
“Melatonin” sounds like a mix between Brand Nubian’s “Slow Down” and ATCQ’s own “Award Tour”, and is followed by “Enough!!”, which is Q-Tip’s sexual joint of the record, for lack of a better term.
“Mobius” has the feel of The Roots’ harder jams, and is highlighted by Busta Rhymes, who spits with a pointed fury that I haven’t heard from him since “Scenario”, and “Woo-Ha!” era Bus.
“Black Spasmodic” features a heavily reggae influenced beat, and Phife’s verse brings to mind Slick Rick in his prime. The follower, “The Killing Season” stars Talib Kweli and Kanye West, and somehow seems to fall flatter than most tracks on the album, though like I said earlier, nothing could be described as “weak” or “filler” here.
“Lost Somebody” is a beautiful tribute to Phife, but the song that really got me misty was “The Donald”, because Phife sounds so fucking good. I couldn’t help but smile through my tears, while the five foot assassin ripped shit. In between those two joints you have “Movin Backwards”, a collaboration with Anderson Paak–who sounds like a mix between Gary Young, Frank Ocean, and Martin Luther here, “Conrad Tokyo”, which guest stars Kendrick Lamar, and has a real 70s funk/soul vibe to it, and “Ego”, which has a beat that sounds almost like a remix of “Excursions”. It’s surreal to hear Tip give shouts to Jack White on the track. It was always fun hearing them give shouts to session guys and producers back in the day, but it’s an altogether different thing when he’s acknowledging the sweet licks of Jack fucking White!
“The Donald” is a fine send off for the Five Foot Freak, and We Got It From Here… is a very good, and altogether satisfying conclusion to the career’s of one of rap music’s elite collectives ever.
We certainly felt you, A Tribe Called Quest. I loved you when you were on the rise, and I mourned your first exit, but this was the perfect bow to tie around an exquisite career. We’ll do our best to keep bouncing without you.