At first look, A Tribe Called Quest’s recently released and final album We Got It from Here.. Thank You 4 Your Service appears to be an interesting take on grammar by sight of the title, however it marks the quirky nature of the band and the fresh angle of the album.
A Tribe Called Quest are fundamental to the hip-hop music scene, as they were founded in 1985 in Queens, New York and are seen as pioneers of alternative hip-hop music. They were marked fourth on the Top 25 Rap Groups of All Time by About.com and in 2005, received a Special Achievement Award at the Billboard R&B Hip-Hop Awards.
The group was composed of MC and producer Q-Tip, MC Phife Dawg (RIP), DJ and producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad and MC Jarobi White, who left the group in 1991, and were signed to the label Jive.
A Tribe Called Quest were also a part of the collective hip-hop artists Native Tongues, who were known for their positive lyrics, and also included rap trio De La Soul. A Tribe Called Quest split up and reunited over the years, splitting in 1998 and reuniting in 2015 to begin work on We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service. Phife Dawg died in March 2016, and the new album includes the last pieces of his work, which creates a haunting yet special air about the album.
We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service is the sixth album from the hip-hop group and includes guest artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Elton John, Andre 3000, Anderson Paak and Jack White. Busta Rhymes, a long time collaborator, is also featured and Jarobi White returns to reunite the whole crew. The album reaches back to the classic 90s hip-hop sound, but also encompasses the new movements in hip-hop, to create a stunning hybrid album with the nostalgic Tribe sound. 18 years later, and Tribe have still got it.
The album is full of bass, which always sets the tone for the album, yet it is easy listening and perfect music for car journeys. “The Space Program” has a blues sound to it, with the underlay of a keyboard that keeps up a consistent beat for the track. A minute in and a patterned drum beat comes in, which connects the Afrobeat sound that is so frequently included in Tribe songs to the rap and hip-hop edge of the group.
A change up of pace and sound creates a break in the consistent beat of the song, with the harmonising singing of backing artists to create a gospel sound and the feeling of community and wholesomeness that allows the listener to feel included in the song, rather than feeling disconnected from the message of the song. Towards the end, it is chaotic, with dialogue between a man and woman conversing about landing in space interrupted by the Ooompa Loompa song from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
It is clear that Tribe took some creative risks and bizarrely, it works. “Gotta get it together forever/Gotta get it together for brothers/Gotta get it together for sisters/For mothers and fathers and dead n****s” may be a remark about the past conflict between the band members and the desire to rekindle the group for the good of everyone, including Phife Dawg who passed away shortly after the band was on the way to pick up from where they left off.
“We The People” has got a very bass-y sound, which means that both hip-hop lovers and rock lovers can jam to this song. The lyrics are full of meaning and with the recent events in America, ring true with the points made in the presidential election by Trump, “All you Black folks, you must go/All you Mexicans, you must go/And all you poor folks, you must go/Muslims and gays, boy, we hate your ways/So all you bad folks, you must go”.
It’s a political track, but it is not in your face about it, which means that Tribe allow the listeners to see in it what they can and it is subtly commented on without addressing directly. It samples Black Sabbath’s “Behind The Wall Of Sleep”, which connects the heavy metal sound to the hip-hop, which might be way to deliver the political message in a stronger sense and capture the attention of the listener.
“Enough!” is jazzy from the offset, with a 90s hip-hop element of female backing singers supporting the Wah-Wah guitar. This song could be slow danced to in Dirty Dancing, as it has a sensual and chilled feel. There is a definite romantic element to this track.
Tribe are addressing a certain female individual, to say that the relationship is not enough to just be sexual for her, she is always wanting something more, “Is this enough? /Is this enough love that I give to you?”. Q-Tip’s singing voice in the chorus is perfectly complimented by the backing singers and the slow, rhythmic melody, which steps away from the street sound of the other rap tracks.
“The Killing Season” is darker, there is a demonic, deeper voiced singer repeating the lyrics of Talib Kweli and Jarobi in the verse, which sets the atmosphere of the song. Kanye West is also featured in the chorus, repeating the words, “They sold ya, sold ya, sold ya”, showing that hip-hop artists old and new all came together to produce a collaborative effort for the last Tribe album, a true symbol of friendship. There is a definite sense of community with the hip-hop group, which should travel across to all genres of music.
“The Donald” features Busta Rhymes, and is a tribute to Phife Dawg whose nickname was Don Juice. It has reggae elements throughout, such as the strong accent from Busta Rhymes in the verse, but the track is an excellent tribute to the hip-hop star, and is featured last on the album so it rings true right at the end and leaves an impression on the Tribe fans. Phife Dawg is even featured in the track, which is haunting since the album was released posthumously, “Phife Dawg legend, you could call me Don Juice/I’m the shit right now, what, you need to see proof?”.
The album itself is both an excellent return to hip-hop by A Tribe Called Quest but also a perfect send off as the last album for the group. It marks a saddening note, as Phife Dawg was not there to see the album released, however it’s sure to be successful and includes his last recordings, which means it will be legendary in itself. The group is first-class in its field, and no matter how long they produce music for, they will always be known as one of the greatest hip-hop bands of all time.
Out now on Epic Records, purchase A Tribe Called Quest’s We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service on iTunes here.
Words by Libby Beacham