A Tribe Called Quest
is officially a thing of the past. After the shocking loss of member Phife Dawg earlier this year, Tribe declared that their 2016 album We got it from Here... Thank You 4 Your service
would be the last of their group's career. That album is out as of last Friday, and so Tribe is effectively done. But we're not saying goodbye and we're definitely not wiping our hands of these hip-hop legends. In a time when some of rap's rising stars are showing very little respect for the old school, Tribe's album serves as the preeminent reminder that legends never die. Phife Dawg may be gone, we may not ever see new material from ATCQ, and hip-hop may never move back in the direction of the style that they so beautifully pioneered. But that beautiful thread in hip-hop's history will remain woven into every piece of hip-hop to come. If there was ever an effective one-line description of hip-hop, I think you'd have to go back to 1990 to find it on Tribe's first album People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm
. In a new decade, Jarobi, Q-Tip, Phife, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad summed their art up once and for all: "Rhythm (Devoted To The Art Of Moving Butts)."
A quarter century after that initial declaration, Tribe has not lost their knack for the art of moving butts. And even though you have to go back to the 90s to find the last Tribe album - The Love Movement
- the extended hiatus/breakup was not the least bit detrimental to the group's chemistry on this one. We got it from Here... Thank You 4 Your service
(long title, but rightfully ruling out WgifH...TY4Ys as an alternative) brings the seasoned approach of all four members, as well as collaborators new and old, into today's mix. Voices on the album are varied and form a legion of talent. The classic one-two punch of Phife and Tip is as effective as ever, trading verses like few duos ever have. Fourth member and 'mystic man' Jarobi White makes his first significant appearance since People's Instinctive Travels
and shows that all along he could flow with the best of them. Busta Rhymes and Consequence, collaborators of the old school, are back in full effect. And the list of less-expected appearances is glorious: Andre 3000, Elton John, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Anderson .Paak, Talib Kweli, and Jack White round out the cast.
As always, beat-maker Ali Shaheed Muhammad's sound proves dynamic and innovative, drawing samples from sources both familiar and obscure. The foundation is as strong as ever, and yet there are entirely new directions explored as well. "Solid Wall of Sound" brings a "Bennie and the Jets" sample to the forefront, then makes way for a Patois-influenced back and forth between Phife and Busta Rhymes before Elton John himself comes in to belt out an outro. Early tracks "The Space Program" and "Whateva Will Be" lay down classic laid-back, jazzy grooves, while "We the People...." puts out a more aggressive, noisy vibe. All three set the tone of the album lyrically, which is largely an exploration of identity and race relations in America. Tribe has never been short of social awareness and realness in their music, but right now seems an especially important time for talented artists to be putting out words that have a real impact. As mentioned before, some young stars (looking at Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert mostly) don't seem to have much respect for precursors like Tribe who were woke before 'woke' became a thing.
We got it from Here... Thank You 4 Your service
is an album of contrast - old and new, relaxed and aggressive, anger and optimism, and above all, eternal life amid loss. Phife Dawg is gone and Tribe is done, these are losses that hurt for anyone who has ever loved the art of hip-hop. But in the wake of that loss, even if we're wiping tears from our eyes, a picture becomes clear. That picture is the beautiful legacy Tribe left on their art. Messages of love, awareness, and acceptance triumphed through the glory years of Q-Tip, Phife, Ali Shaheed, and Jarobi. Now, when the days of Native Tongues, bright colors, and Afrocentric alternative hip-hop seem to be long gone, Tribe comes back one last time to prove that these messages are eternal.