It’s hard to express the hype that surrounded A Tribe Called Quest’s new album. We Got It From Here… Thank You For Your Service, is the sixth and decidedly final album by the pioneers of smooth, jazzy hip-hop. It’s been 20 years since the group’s last release. A freight train of contributing artists joined this new record: Kendrick Lamar, Andre 3000, Elton John, Jack White, Kanye West, Talib Kweli, Busta Rhymes, and Consequence.
The hype surrounding We Got It From Here… was all-time, and so, accordingly, the ol’ elephant entered the party asking whether the legends could live up to expectations. Imagine Tyson getting back into the ring in his late-40s for one last brawl — you’re celebrating, but secretly you’re worried about the legacy. Tribe didn’t knock this one out; they tore the gloves off and absolutely obliterated the entire arena.
During the production of this album, one of the greatest rappers ever and Tribe member Phife Dawg passed away. His lyrics for the album had already been recorded. The group somehow managed to put the album together, working all through the night for months, completing the record on November 9, two days before its release. Q-tip, Phife’s childhood friend and Tribe member, said this about the creation of the record: “This incarnation of Tribe is divine order.” Listening to the album, it’s tempting to believe him. We Got it From Here is a powerful send-off by one of the most influential hip-hop groups of all time.
The first song “Space Program” bangs with old-school hip-hop style, a raspy movie monologue opening, and samples of jazz riffs overflowing with swagger. Then “We The People,” the second song on the record, takes that underground vibe, turns it up, and swells it with contemporary fury, spitting “We don’t believe you ‘cause we the people / Are you still here in the rear, ayo, we don’t need you / you in the killing-off-good-young-nigga mood,” and a chorus that blares in the face of their Republican countrymen, mocking, “All you black folks you must go / all you Mexicans you must go / all you poor folks you must go / Muslims and gays, boy we hate your ways.”
The collaboration on the album is impressive. Elton John supplies piano on a few tracks, Jack White brings a spectrum of guitar influences from bluesy bass to feverish electric, and the modern giants such as Andre 3000 and Kendrick Lamar don’t disappoint, rhyming with confidence and vigor, but they never seem to outshine any of the OG’s. Every word from Tribe is imbued with earnest intensity, as if time has replaced any sense of comfort or complacency with a need to howl one last dissent into the stratosphere before receding into the shadow of the future generation.
The song “Enough!!” is a suave joint of soul music sound with scratching turntables, tapping symbols, and breathy background singers. Track six, “Kids,” is a romp with bopping piano and lyrics recalling young dreams and a chorus blaring “Kids don’t you know how all this shit is fantasy?” The second to last track, “Ego,” blends bopping trumpets, eerie violins, and Jack White on guitar. The last song — simply titled “The Donald” — invokes the reign of Donald Trump. But it’s more of a sendoff to Phife Dawg who shows up halfway through to remind everyone who the fuck he is, rapping “Leave the i-Phones home, skill sets must be shown / I’mma show you the real meaning of the danger zone.”
A Tribe Called Quest sounds as fresh as ever, motivated and inspired. The timing of the record, with all of the political chaos and racial turmoil, is impeccable. As well as being a swan song to a great musical crew, We Got It From Here … is a touching send-off to one of rap’s most influential players. Eighteen years later and these dudes are still spitting fire. That’s worthy of a salute.
For a sample, check out “We the People,” enjoy, then realize these dudes are fringing on 50 and have your mind blown.
R.I.P. Phife Dawg.