A Tribe Called Quest waited nearly 20 years before they were ready to reunite as a group, simultaneously saying “hello” and “goodbye” to their fans. By now, the story of their break-up and the long, winding journey they underwent in order to end up back together has been well documented. What matters most right now is they were able to get back on one accord to create We Got It From Here…Thank You For Your Service, an album fans and the music world as a whole needed as much as the group themselves.
No matter who won last week’s presidential election, we are all readying ourselves for a post-Obama America. Over the past eight years, our nation has experienced so many great strides meant to bring us closer together. But, recent times — numerous incidents involving police brutality, the divisive nature of the presidential campaign, the many acts of public protests and more — serve as a reminder America’s undergoing a change of course in a darker direction. And with everyone on high alert wondering what’s next in a Trump world, Tribe provides an album full of observations on where we stand in society.
It all begins at the outset with “Space Program,” a track where the tough realities minorities — specifically the African-American community — face. The hook lays out the idea that there’s no safe place for black people, not even in outer space, but he song is no cry for help — it’s a call to action. “Gotta get it together for sisters, For mothers and fathers and dead n****s,” Q-Tip and Phife rhyme in unison for the hook. The intro song sets the tone for the whole project: We’ve come a long way but we’ve got so much more to go. Throughout We’ve Got It From Here, each MC spends a considerable amount of time taking stock of these issues and speaking hard truths: “Why y’all cool with the f*ckery/ Trump and the ‘SNL’ hilarity / Troublesome times, kid, no times for comedy,” the late Phife Dawg rhymes on “Conrad Tokyo.”
Even with its serious overtones, the album still manages to exhibit many joyful moments, which can probably be attributed to Q-Tip’s mandate, which required everyone involved to record at his New Jersey studio. After years apart, it might seem like too much time had passed for the crew to recreate the youthfulness captured when they were teenage upstarts hailing from on “the Boulevard named Linden,” but they managed to harness that same energy. The biggest surprise may be the lyrical arrival of seldom heard from member Jarobi, who doesn’t necessarily replace Phife but helps fill the void with performances that pack a punch in delivery and lyrics. Familiar friends like fellow Native Tongues member Busta Rhymes, who officially lands on “Solid Wall Of Sound” and the cosmic-sounding “Dis Generation,” and Consequence, a Tribe collaborator on their later albums, both come through with performances that are vibrant, and sound like everyone involved never grew apart from their ’90s run.
We have Q-Tip to thank for their sound — he produced the bulk of the album with Blair Wells. The project marks their return to sampling, another throwback to the Native Tongue days, and fans who were divided by their early jazz-influenced years and the later, more soulful approach can find a middle ground here. Tracks like “Mobius” go from sparse to more complex in a small space. “The Killing Season” follows a similar pattern by kicking off with a smoldering bass line during verse one and drifting off to a lighter space by the second verse and the remainder of the song. Instead of playing it safe, the production sets the pace, and listeners are compelled to sit back and soak in the show.
Then, too, there are appearances from an array of guests who help Tip, Jarobi and Ali Shaheed form the collective “We” who help bring joy to the partly dim reality that hangs over the album, considering Phife’s gone, and this actually will be the last full ATCQ LP we’ll ever receive. The new cast-mates are guys who found their lane in music by going through the door Tribe helped to open with their creativity, sound and style. Andre 3000, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Talib Kweli and Anderson .Paak all sound completely comfortable filling slots on the album because they’re descendants of the group’s abstract ways. Each one adds a layer of themselves to songs that remains true to overall vibe of the project. K. Dot’s spot on “Conrad Tokyo” resembles his best “woke” rhymes of recent times and .Paak is handed the keys on the groove-driven “Movin’ Backwards.” There’s no hogging of spotlight; everyone’s invited and whoever is hot gets the go-ahead to shine.
It all comes back to delivering a cohesive message to fans. One of ATCQ’s strengths was always their ability to teach without preaching. To hold up that mirror, so not only fans, but the group members themselves could see what’s most important. The Jack White-assisted “Ego” havs a bouncy vibe that could’ve easily lived on Low End Theory and delivers a heartfelt message: “This is the last Tribe and our ego hopes that you felt us, And closing for our ego, we know only God can help us.”
In a similar vein is the album’s send-off, “The Donald” — which through fate or the doing of some higher power comes at the right time — in features Phife Dawg figuratively carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates. He, Tip and Busta attempt to reclaim the name attached to our new president-elect by sharing a spirited, battle-ready verse telling would-be competitors to bring their best bars. In a time when mood raps reign supreme, issuing the challenge definitely works as a throwback move that older fans will applaud. But, younger artists and fans shouldn’t worry because Three Stacks has their back on “Kids,” where he encourages the new generation not to fret over the rants of old fogeys. “F*ck it, kids, the grown-ups won’t own up,” he rhymes, “They stood on the corner / Like you once upon a time.”
Really, therein lies the beauty and balance Tribe was missing on 1998’s The Love Moment. At the time, they were disconnected from one another and, in part, the Bad Boy wave that influenced the era, so they couldn’t fight their way into mixtape or radio plays. Almost 20 years later, they managed to reconnect and find that elusive plane that allows them to speak to a variety of fans, from hard rock fans to hip-hop heads, during their heyday. The current times are creating a space where receptive audiences are looking for music that not only feels good but adds substance to their diets. We’ve Got It From Here engages fans across a wide spectrum by saying what needs to be said when everyone needs to hear those painful truths and critical observations the most. The fact this is their last album is sobering, but at least they released a body of work that lived up to every expectation for the high standards they set for themselves.