Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Jarobi White and Phife Dawg all compose one of the most important hip-hop groups of all time: A Tribe Called Quest.
Their albums ‘The Low End Theory’ and ‘Midnight Marauders’ received critical acclaim in the 90s for their eloquent blend of afro-beats and jazz. Many artists today like Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, André 3000, Pusha T and Pharrell Williams point to the iconic group as an inspiration.
Almost two decades later, A Tribe Called Quest returns with its sixth and final album: ‘We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service;’ a title chosen by Phife Dawg before he passed away at age 45 from diabetes.
This final offering by Tribe is as much a eulogy to Phife Dawg as it is a protest against today’s political scene. Due to the release date being just three days after the election, it is clear that the album is not a response to the results, but the results definitely heighten the album’s message.
A Tribe Called Quest kicks off the project doing what they do best, spitting witty, socially conscious bars over a jazzy, boom-bap beat on the introductory track ‘The Space Program.’
“It’s time to go left and not right. Gotta get it together forever, gotta get it together for brothers, gotta get it together for sisters, for mothers and fathers and dead niggas.”
The introductory track continues and within the first verse Q-Tip and Jarobi are already competitively trading lines back and forth. This adds a very nostalgic touch to the album, taking listeners back to the days when lyrics mattered more than beats.
Despite its moments of nostalgia, this album is by no means stuck in the past.
“Our people forsaken, dawg. No Washingtons, Jeffersons, Jacksons on the captain’s log,” raps Jarobi. While on the surface these lines seem to be referring to money, they could also be in reference to common African-American last names that Jarobi believes will be left off the space captain’s log when humans venture into space, hence the title of the intro.
On the second track ‘We the People…’ Q-Tip begins to point fingers at those responsible for the injustices Africans-Americans face in this country. He calls out the IRS and labels them as piranhas that keep people in low income neighborhoods stuck, or “living in a fishbowl.”
Q-Tip also sheds light on the mistreatment of other minorities in the hook, which seems to be mocking Donald Trump’s campaign tactics.
“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. So all you bad folks, you must go,” raps Q-Tip.
‘We the People…’ also features a pre-recorded bridge from Phife Dawg, who appears throughout the album. The final track ‘The Donald’ features a full length Phife Dawg verse. Phife Dawg rightfully calls himself a legend in his final verse and says good-bye to the rap game in style.
“Untouchable in my zone, watch it, don’t leave him alone. Fuck your ass cheek flows with bars sweeter than scones. Put down microphone.”
Even when rapping about sweets, Phife Dawg did not sugar coat anything he had to say.
Long time collaborator Busta Rhymes contributes with three features on the album. As he would do in the 90s, Rhymes blindsides listeners and bulldozes the track ‘Mobius,’ which starts off as a smooth, piano-driven head bobber.
However, ‘We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service’ features more new friends than old ones. Anderson .Paak sings a soulful chorus on ‘Movin’ Backwards,’ Kanye West delivers a clever hook “They sold ya,” which sounds a lot like soldier on the song ‘The Killing Season’ and Kendrick Lamar does his part on the song ‘Conrad Tokyo’ where he compares Democrats and Republicans to Bloods and Crips.
André 3000 delivers the best feature on the track ‘Kids…’ Three stacks and Q-Tip trade verses meant to encourage kids who want to be rappers to also pursue a plan b. They inform kids that the lifestyle they long for is fake as a lot of the rappers they idolize simply portray the image of being rich.
“Kids, don’t you know all this shit is fantasy?” André 3000 repeats on the hook.
‘We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service’ is a clear contender for album of the year. It takes many listens as it’s loaded with substance but it’s substance we truly needed to hear with all that’s been going on in 2016.
President-elect Donald Trump won voters over by promising to take the country back to the good old days. While this album has it’s moments of nostalgia it always looks to the future. It highlights the dangers of moving backwards and warns listeners of “the devastation of Obama’s nation.”
Goodbye tribe, we’ve got it from here — thank you for your service.