Gotta get it together for brothers
Gotta get it together for sisters
For mothers and fathers and dead niggas…
Not ten seconds into A Tribe Called Quest’s latest album, We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, and there it is: Q-Tip and Phife Dawg trading flows once again over Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s beats. Jarobi’s raspy chuckle sounds out, and he plunges into the mix with them. Damn, it sounds good.
ATCQ’s sixth and final album instantly summons that familiar, beloved sound you haven’t heard for some time (roughly 18 years, if you’re counting). And in what seems now like a blessed tonic for a poisonous election season and perhaps an even worse result, the timing of the album’s release seems almost preordained. The timing couldn’t be better.
The sound of estranged friends reunited sends you adrift on a thousand fond Tribe memories—of The Low End Theory and Native Tongues and Bonita Applebum and old jazz samples and “Can I Kick It?” But the subject matter of lead cut “The Space Program” quickly drags you right back into the present; to references to Eric Garner gasping “I can’t breathe” and Brittany Newsome scaling the South Carolina statehouse’s flagpole to pull down a Confederate flag; to killings and mass incarceration of black Americans. As if responding to every tired, merit-less critique of black manhood and culture offered by less-than-qualified politicians and pundits mansplaining away on Fox News, Phife puts it down perfectly on “Whateva Will Be”:
Are you amused by our struggles? The English that’s broken?
The weed that I’m smokin’? The guns that I’m totin’?
The drugs that I’m sellin’? No need for improvement
Fuck you and who you think I should be, forward movement
Elsewhere, “Kids” tackles the dreams and disillusionment of a youth with little opportunity, and “The Killing Season” addresses police brutality, lynchings, and neglect of war veterans. The latter track promises what Tribe might yet have become: little bit darker and more menacing, with strains of world-weary sadness. Kanye shows up here, paying some long overdue homage to Tribe’s influence on his work. But Tribe’s old featured player, Consequence, delivers the best line: “Now they wanna condemn me for my freedom of speech/’Cause I see things in black and white like Lisa and Screech.”
The brilliant production work of The Ummah (Tip, Muhammad, and J Dilla) on Beats, Rhymes and Life and The Love Movement came to define Tribe’s sound. But with Dilla now gone, rather than trying to recreate the inimitable, We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service instead leans heavily into rock & roll influences. “We The People” chops up Black Sabbath, and “Solid Wall of Sound” features samples, vocals, and playing from both Jack White and Elton John. Interpolations of the percussion-soaked “Halleluhwah”—by krautrockers Can—appear on two other tracks.
Thankfully, Tribe still know their way around a hella catchy chorus. “Whateva Will Be” and “Disgeneration” (featuring Busta Rhymes) are veritable hookfests. And “Enough” is the finest sex jam from Tribe since “Electric Relaxation” (Midnight Marauders), with Jarobi showing the people something new.
The bitter always finds its way into the sweet: With Phife’s death in March of 2016 due to diabetes, We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service is the victory lap that each member of A Tribe Called Quest deserved to enjoy. We’ll all just have to do it on Phife’s behalf.