REVIEW: A Tribe Called Quest, We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
By Anton Constantinou
We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service is a fitting tribute to a band member, who, on March 22nd 2016, gave up service all together when he tragically passed away.
A Tribe Called Quest’s sixth and final album pays homage to the late Phife Dawg: a lead member in one of the greatest hip hop groups of all time, whose sad departure has all but been forgotten.
ATCQ are best known for putting out some of the most iconic jazz rap of the 90s. Their early releases like People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm and The Low End Theory played a pivotal role in shifting hip hop in more arty, socially-conscious direction – a blueprint which has since been replicated by everyone from Outkast to Pharrell.
Following disputes and a breakdown in communication, the group ceased making music for over 15 years. 1998’s The Love Movement appeared to signal what many thought to be the end of their reign. Q-Tip went his way, Phife the other. Phife, all the while, faced an enduring battle with diabetes – a disease which later featured in the biographical documentary film, Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest, and would eventually take his life.
Those who know Phife best, however, will tell you that he’s not the type of person to go out without a fight. And fight to very end he did. How? By getting back in the driving seat with ‘Tip, Ali and Jafobi to put out another release.
We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service is not your run-of-the-mill rap album. Following in the tradition of previous Tribe releases it crosses many genres: reggae, rock, rock n roll, funk. Some might even say it’s electronic sounding at times. Either way, it has a broad appeal capable of drawing not just hip hop fans, but lovers of creative music full stop.
Tribe have always been an eclectic band, but while their earlier work contained a strong jazz element, this album seems to favour more of a spacey, glitchy sound, perhaps as a reflection on how music’s changed over the last two decades. Q-Tip’s solo work under the pseudonym Kamaal/The Abstract has paved the way for a more acoustic style approach, focused less on lyrics and more on instrumentation.
Evidence of this is visible in the fast rapping and repetitious hooks which inform their latest release. That along with its non linear beats which, rather than sounding messy, have a decidedly live, improvised feel about them. Still intact are the wacky samples – one of our favourites is the Gene Wilder snippet from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory which comes in at the end of The Space Program.
Cautionary raps have long informed Tribe’s repertoire. Pubic Enemy tackles safe sex, Everything Is Fair, prostitution, The Night He Got Caught, infidelity; and in Steve Biko a cultural reference is made to a former South African anti-Apartheid activist. However, contrary to alot of their peers, Tribe have this unique knack of being able to talk about important stuff in a fun, lighthearted way. This time around the popular topic of choice is Donald Trump’s election, which is neatly summed up in a single hook:
“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”.
Capturing the general mood around his campaign in the hip hop community, We The People rises up against the scaremongering to side with America’s ethic minorities:
“You in the killing-off-good-young-nigga mood/ When we get hungry we eat the same fucking food,” suggests Q-Tip. Later on in the song, Phife toys with the idea of gender equality:
“We got your missie smitten rubbing on a little kitten/Dreaming of a world that’s equal for women with no division”
The Donald is a dedication not to the newly elected president, but to Phife himself:
“He’s a Trini gladiator, ain’t no need to take it further.”
In this example, Trump’s name is harnessed for good, as an expression of power and influence. Essentially, Trump is to New York real estate what Phife is to New York rap – an icon.
Guest appearances on the album come from from André 3000, Busta Rhymes, Kendrick Lamar, Jack White, Kanye West, Anderson Paak, Talib Kweli, and even Elton John.
Kendrick’s bouncy flow does wonders to the beat in Conrad Tokyo, which has a dreamy 8-bit/Chiptune feel about it, and feels distinctly Japanese, while in Solid Wall Sound, double-time rhyming from ‘Tip and Busta nicely offset Elton John’s smooth piano playing.
There’s no replacing Phife Dawg, that’s for sure. He lives on as one of the funniest, most animated emcees to ever grace the planet, known by his friends and fans as “The Five-Foot Assassin”, the “Funky Diabetic”, “The Dynomutt”, and now, “The Donald”.
Keep his spirit alive by purchasing a copy of We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service on Amazon and iTunes now.
Also available for streaming on Tidal, Spotify and Apple Music.
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