A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here ... Thank You 4 Your Service (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

A Tribe Called Quest

We Got It From Here ... Thank You 4 Your Service (2016)

Epic


                For most hip-hop fans, what’s considered the genre’s “Golden Age” came to an end at some point in the late nineties or early part of the twenty-first century. While people like Jay-Z, Nas, and Wu-Tang Clan managed to remain relevant throughout the new millennium; for many people the genre’s mainstream hasn’t recaptured the consistent high levels of years gone by in quite some time. A few chance reunions, plus an appearance on The Tonight Show, in 2015 gave many hope that one of the era’s greats, A Tribe Called Quest, might make a return. The passing of Phife Dawg in early 2016, which may henceforth be referred to as “The Year the Must Died,” cast some doubt on this. However, in mid-November fans got what may prove to be the final album in the group’s storied career, We Got It From Here … Thanks For Your Service.

The group, always known for having production that appealed to the fans of many genres of music, brings the heat on this album. The production, handled by Q-Tip, sounds as much of hip-hop’s golden era as it does of today and provides a near timeless backdrop to what may prove to be one of the best hip-hop albums of this century. Bringing everyone from Jack White to Elton John for musical support to cameos on the mic from Consequence, Busta Rhymes, Kendrick Lamar, Andre 3000, Talib Kweli and Kanye West the group succeeds at what they always have, expanding their own sound and reminding us all that hip-hop (much like punk) is a genre that is at its best when the conservative constraints of genre purists are ignored.

The group, who never shied away from social commentary previously, hits the ground running on album opener “The Space Program” as Phife, Q-Tip, and Jarobi trade lines about unity, social ills, and issues taking place in communities of color. With lines like, “It always seems the poorest persons are people forsaken, dawg/No Washingtons, Jeffersons, Jacksons on the captain's log/They'd rather lead us to the grave, water poisoned, deadly smog/Mass un-blackening, it's happening, you feel it y'all?” It becomes clear that despite nearly twenty years out of the game they’ve been paying attention and are still ready and willing to touch on issues in a genre that, until recently, had become largely apolitical. It’s good to see that with while many mellow with age, the Tribe is as poignant as ever. The song, also ends with a stroke of genius on Q-Tip’s behalf as a producer as he incorporates a sample of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka performing Wondrous Boat Ride which makes the songs closing all that more ominous.

The group keeps the social commentary going throughout the album on tracks like “We The People,” “Melatonin,” and especially “The Killing Season.” While the most high profile name on this tack is Kanye, all he really contributes is the hook. The best lines come from Talib Kewli who open the song with, “Winter in America, never knew white Christmas/'Cause elves said the squares is always making my shit list/Spring is in the air and all the flowers in bloom/The powers that be wanna devour the movement/Tears disappear when they fall in the summer rain/Bleedin' through this mic, but they call it entertainment.” This is followed by longtime Tribe collaborator Consequence who also brings the heat with, “The old lady saw us on the lawn with the Henny/Turn the pool party into the one from McKinney/Might've been racist like the waitresses up at Denny's/So we had twelve gauges, automatics, and semis/Now they wanna condemn me for my freedom of speech/'Cause I see things in black and white like Lisa and Screech.” Jarobi closes the track out with a killer verse of his own, further solidifying that the conscious hip-hop that was common place in the nineties is still just as vital today.

Never ones to forget that hip-hop got started with underground dance parties; the group brings the party tracks too. Tracks like “The Donald” and “Dis Generation” find the group laying down beats and verses that you can have a good time to, which is a versatility not many groups had back in the day or have now. There are certainly conscious rappers from Public Enemy to Dead Prez to Immortal Technique and there are rappers who are great for the party from LL Cool Jay to any of the rappers in today’s game whose careers are essentially one and done club hits. There are few who can cross that border though Jay-Z, Ice Cube, Outkast, and Tribe Called Quest among them. The ability to do either successfully is amazing; the ability to jump from one to the other with the same amount of effectiveness is a rarity, as it has been in all genres of music.

If nothing else, this album reminds everyone who had forgotten that this is what masters of a genre sound like. It also lets people too young to remember The Low End Theory or Midnight Marauders experience true legends at the same time people who’ve been hip-hop heads for years have. Is this album a classic? In every sense of that word, yes it is. Is it on par with their other classics, including the aforementioned albums? That’s a tougher question to answer, and while I think everything about this album screams classic. When people look back on this group in ten, twenty, or thirty years I don’t think this album will be one of the first two that comes to mind. It’s a perfect album in every sense of the word, this album is timeless. But, when you have a back catalog as strong as this group that goes as far back as this group … it’s hard to say the impact on the genre will be as deep as it was almost thirty years ago.