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Album Review: “We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service”

A Tribe Called Quest’s latest, last album, 18 years in the making.

Album Review: “We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service”

Legendary hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ) released its sixth and final studio album, “We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service,” on Nov. 11. The group’s first three albums: “People’s Instinctive Travels & the Paths of Rhythm” (1990), “The Low End Theory ” (1991) and “Midnight Marauders” (1993) are widely regarded as classics.

This latest album has people buzzing and could be a return to critical acclaim and commercial success for the group. Kamaal Ibn John Fareed (Q-Tip) shared an image on Facebook announcing the album, saying, “we completed what will be, obviously the final A Tribe Called Quest album!”

From layers of meaning injected throughout the album, three clear reasons emerge for why the band released an album for the first time in 18 years: to honor founding band member Phife Dawg, to speak on the current state of hip hop and to speak on the current state of the United States.

Malik Izaak Taylor (Phife Dawg), one of the group’s founding members, died at 45-years-old of complications from diabetes in March, a few months before the album was completely finished. Group members Q-Tip and Jarobi White spent the next seven months recording the last pieces and polishing the rest of the album. Phife Dawg’s untimely death didn’t stop him from contributing verse after verse of typically hard hitting lyrics that have become his posthumous message to the world.

ATCQ has likely left the recording booth for the last time. The album is, in no small part, dedicated to the life of Phife. Although Phife Dawg himself came up with the title of the album and it was released on Veterans Day, “We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service,” certainly seems like it could be a message to the group’s defining MC.

“Lost Somebody,” stands out as a particularly poignant track and gives Q-Tip the opportunity to pay his most direct, personal tribute to his longtime friend and collaborator. Q-Tip weaves together intimate looks into Phife Dawg’s early life with his own memories of their relationship. Plus there’s a great guitar solo from Jack White at the end of this song.

Phife Dawg featuring so prominently on a tribute album to himself might seem out of place, but on certain songs it’s clear when each verse was recorded and at times Q-Tip will reply directly to his dead friend. A legendary list of features picks up any slack left by Phife Dawg’s death: Busta Rhymes appears on several tracks, and Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, Andre 3000, Talib Kweli and Consequence also contribute verses.

Kendrick Lamar has been heralded as the “best rapper alive,” and his conscious, alternative stylings that brought him into the conversation are evocative of the early avant garde style of ATCQ. Kendrick even gets a shout out on “Dis Generation” alongside Joey Bada$$, Earl Sweatshirt and J. Cole where Q-Tip declares these young emcees, “gatekeepers of flow.”

This album is also an album about hip-hop. It’s the group’s first album together in 18 years and likely their last album ever, so it seemed unavoidable for ATCQ to not get introspective. Hip-hop isn’t what it used to be and regardless of whether you think that’s because it has improved or just fizzled out, fans of the genre must have at least some respect for the legendary group.

As fun as it is to listen to as contemporary SoundCloud “mumble” rappers, it’s hard to imagine someone like Lil Yachty, Playboi Carti, Lil Uzi or Ugly God putting together a cohesive indictment of modern institutions. Much respect to YG, whose song, “FDT (F--k Donald Trump),” was the most outspoken, insightful and straightforward condemnation of Donald Trump’s candidacy by one of rap’s next generation.

Coming out less than three days after Donald Trump was declared the President-elect of the United States, it would be impossible not to draw any connections or interpret any references as political commentary. Song titles such as, “Solid Wall of Sound” and “The Donald” make the urge to label it a #NeverTrump album even more tempting.

However, ATCQ gets political without invoking politicians. “Solid Wall of Sound” turns out to be just Elton John, Jack White and Busta Rhymes having some fun, while “The Donald” is actually an allusion to one of Phife Dawg’s nicknames: Don Juice.

The album makes the decision not to name names, but that certainly doesn’t stop ATCQ from making a statement. “The Killing Season” and “We The People,” are among the most overtly political tracks; in both, clever jabs and insights capture the group’s black experience over the past 20 years. References to police killings of black men and women that have gone unpunished can be heard on several tracks and are shockingly relevant today as they have been throughout the emcees’ careers.

It almost felt necessary for this album to come out at this time, regardless of the result of the election. Much of the social criticism that can be heard throughout the album would still be valid whether Trump won the presidency or not. The album stands as an indictment of modern, unjust institutions.

Now is the time to listen to this album. Listen to the last words of a great artist, absorb the wordplay, rewind the references and dissect the meaning behind it all that is as focused and powerful as anything out right now. Plus, you won’t be the only one.

jstringer@theeagleonline.com


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