- by Jon Burke Rating:10 Release Date:2016-11-11 Label: RCA
The toll 2016 has taken on popular music is almost unfathomable. Prince and Bowie, two singularly limitless geniuses, are no longer with us. Ruby Wilson, Bobby Hutcherson, Bernie Worrell, George Martin and as of today, Leonard Cohen – all dead and gone. This godawful year also claimed Malik “The 5ft. Freak” Taylor, aka Phife Dawg, a seminal member of A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ). Despite his diminutive size, and relative anonymity in the era of Kanye and Drake, Phife’s influence on rap and hip hop culture was massive. His passing seemed to be the death knell of any potential of the long-rumored ATCQ reunion. To make matters worse Tribe’s previous record, The Love Movement, was considered a middling disappointment by fans and critics alike. Phife’s death seemed to have literally prevented ATCQ from going out on a good note… and then last month everything changed.
In October ATCQ front man, Q-Tip, released a statement that in fall of 2015 the group quietly reunited and went into the recording studio. During those sessions Phife was able to record enough material prior to his death in March of 2016 to provide a “blueprint of what we had to do”, according to Tip. The album spawned from those sessions was released today, entitled We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service. Not to overstate, overhype or overwhelm the product but We Got It From Here... is very close to the Tribe reunion album that fans have been dreaming of for the last sixteen years.
The album opens appropriately with “The Space Program” in which Q-Tip and Phife chant in unison about the need to “get it together” over a spaced-out sample and organ loop. The track itself seems to be an update on Gil Scott Heron’s “Whitey’s On The Moon” and features near constant reminders from Tip that: “There ain’t a space program for niggas/ Yeah, you stuck, stuck, stuck” – a sentiment calcified by the endless bigotry of our recent Trumpocalypse. “The Space Program” also features the brilliant lyrical return of Jarobi, one of ATCQ’s original members, whose absence over the last couple records was palpable. As a Track One, “The Space Program” sets a high bar for We Got It From Here…
The anti-Trump politics continue with “We The People” in which a litany of Others are told “you must go” due to their race, culture, poverty and sexuality. “Dis Generation” is a sunny ode to the best rappers of the current pop crop, including Joey Bada$$, Earl Sweatshirt and Kendrick Lamar. Speaking of Kendrick, he adds his hungry, spit-fire flow to the electro-bounce of “Conrad Tokyo”. Other guests on the record include Kanye West, Elton John and Anderson .Paak. Frequent Tribe collaborators Consequence and Busta Rhymes also make several appearances on We Got It From Here… and both serve to not only add to the traditional ATCQ atmosphere but also turn in stellar performances. Busta adopts a Jamaican patois for several of his verses which pairs nicely with Phife’s Mutty Ranks persona.
For all there is to love on We Got It From Here… there are also some duds. The cloying sex-rap track “Enough”, which nods to the far superior Tribe classic “Bonita Applebam”, is not only uninteresting but also feels out of place amidst all the woke consciousness present throughout the rest of the album. The highly political but ultimately lame “The Killing Season” rather tragically squanders a solid verse from Talib Kweli – a rapper whose reverence for ATCQ has been clear since his late 1990s work with Blackstar. While nothing on the album is terrible the midsection of We Got It From Here… is definitely its weakest point.
We Got It From Here… wraps up with a track called “The Donald” which is, oddly enough, not about the flaxen-haired, leathery-skinned nightmare we just elected to be our next Dictator-In-Chief. Instead, “The Donald” is a tribute to Phife Dawg that opens with Busta Rhymes’ gravely staccato and then segues into a masterful bit of self-promotion by Phife himself. Tip closes the track with a brief tongue twisting mouthful of praise for his former partner. “The Donald” is a perfect closer for both We Got It From Here… and for Phife himself in that it never relies on sappy sentiment but instead offers heaps of evidence for why Phife was truly one of rap’s pioneering voices. All said and done, We Got It From Here… is A Tribe Called Quest finally going out on a good note with Tip and Phife, both on point, all the time. I highly recommend you check it out, check it out y'all.