A Tribe Called Quest never really chased a particularly massive sound and although 2016 has been rife with drawn out comeback albums and overwrought stadium tours for old folks, the group has left their final note to their fans in a rather unsuspecting fashion. Announced only two weeks before its release—a few months after the group lost the legendary Phife Dawg—We Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service came into the music world’s collective itunes without a hit-single or some tidal exclusive bullshit and, luckily, the group managed to complete the record without having to piece together strange scraps of verses from their late member. The album is a testament to the relevance of flow and political poignancy in a tumultuous time. It’s a record that perfectly balances reminiscing on an important time period and looking ahead to the continuation of the tradition. Tribe sticks to Tribe, humbly taking their final bow on one of the best goodbyes ever crafted.
“The Space Program” opens the album perfectly with some crunchy, esoteric vocal samples. Q-Tip and Phife Dawg enter with a pulsing flow as the beat pieces itself together around them. Perhaps the sound space is a bit brighter as a product of the modern production, but the Classic-Tribe bass line, the looping, Rhodes keyboard chords, and two-beat drum pattern immediately pick up where the group left off with biting rhyme schemes continuing the momentum for the rest of the track. As far as subject matter goes, the group addresses white privilege, suggesting that white kids can dream of going to space, but for people of color, the government would “rather lead us to the grayest water poison deadly smog/Mass un-blackening, it’s happening.” This carries over to the next song “We The People…,” which addresses gentrification: “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.” Tribe probably senses the fact that this is the song America needs right now—it was their SNL-performance choice—the head nodding bass line and the hook come together to craft another ear worm to add to the Tribe lexicon.
“Whateva Will Be” is a simple, mellow track featuring solid verses from Jarobi, Q-Tip, and Phife, as well as a feature from Consequence who falls into the category of “old friends” with Busta Rhymes who’s also featured later on in the album. “Solid Wall of Sound” is the first taste of a slight experimental-edge that the album plays with; a sluggish beat is contrasted by the 16th-note flows from each rapper, then the production plays around with filters, bringing everything together for a symphonic, instrumental finale. “Dis Generation” then comes through with an important shout-out to the new “gatekeepers of flow…Joey [Bada$$], Earl [Sweatshirt], Kendrick [Lamar], and [J] Cole.” Andre 3000 controls much of the next track, “Kids,” delivering a laid back verse and a heavily manipulated vocal hook. “Melatonin” and “Enough!!!” continue the drift away from catchy hooks with forward-thinking instrumentals to wrap up the first act.
Act two begins with a slight return to the classic-tribe sound; between the punching beat, the classic rock sample, and the contrasting verses from Consequence and Busta Rhymes, “Mobius” certainly hearkens back to the hey-day. The continues on “Black Spasmodic,” which reinvigorates more of a reggae groove for a creative string of rhymes from Phife: “And how do you touch mic with flows uncertain? Speak game dry, boy, that flow ain’t workin’ Folks throwin’ items, them vex and cursin’ Fuck made me wanna see these niggas in person?” Q-Tip’s heart also begins to wrench for Phife Dawg on this track “My nigga spirit be talkin’ to me… he be saying… I’m leaving, but nigga you still got the work to do/I expect the best from you, I’m watching from my heaven view,” but his full-fledged ode to Phife Dawg comes together on “Lost Somebody.” The theme of family comes throughout the track, adding more weight to the loss. Q-Tip first discusses Phife’s upbringing then their kindred relationship: “I would treat you like little brother that would give you fits…Rhymes we would write it out, hard times fight it out/Gave grace face to face, made it right/And now you riding out.” The second verse—courtesy of Jarobi—contrasts childhood memories “Took me quick to granny house, now we eat the curry food/Talking hopes, dreams, plans, leak ice, never scared/Brand new pair of Nike Airs” with growing up and reaching milestones “Wedding in Tobago, you know exactly where I’m at/Standing on the side of black Malik Izaak.”
Obviously there’s a bit of a nostalgic tinge in places, but the album isn’t overly-reliant on it. Rather than morning Phife Dawg throughout, the group gives him one final spin, pushing boundaries in the genre while staying true to the legacy. While the album does not follow a specific narrative, the group maintains consistency through each of the 16 tracks with a logical progression of songs. The beginning provides some radio-worthy hits before delving into some experimental thoughts for a couple tracks. Then the second half stays—for the most part—within traditional hip hop aesthetics. Features are used widely, touching upon the 90s with some old friends then bridging together the 00s and 10s with the likes of Andre 3000, Talib Kweli, Kanye West, and Anderson Paak. Whenever the album takes a breath, the crew has the ability to fall back on a solid verse from somewhere, before steamrolling into uncharted territory once again.
The album feels like Tribe at the top of their game and I’m not going to feed into the “hip-hop is dead” narrative, but there certainly are a lot of “half singers” out there. By rocking the music world with non-stop bars and rhymes, perhaps Tribe Called Quest emphasizes the relevance of the lineage placed before the modern day MC. The emotional weight of Phife Dawg’s along with the feeling of goodbye naturally combine for a moving piece, yet the group’s greatest accomplishment remains the expertise with which they handle their craft.