What can be said that has not already been said about the hip-hop professors, A Tribe Called Quest have been able to establish themselves for well over 20 years in the musical community. The four original members, Q-Tip, Jarobi White, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and the late legend Phife Dawg. Able to provide a strong youthful voice in hip-hop music and acted as pillars in their community, providing both a reinforcement through expression and the freedom of the people of the world. Their music spoke in volumes, and their sixth and final album is a send-off to a now impossible to forget group of MC’s and producers that changed society through their art.
We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service is a double LP that spans just barely over an hour in length, but the context and content inside this hour is a heartfelt journey that leaves any fan of both Tribe or hip-hop feeling satisfied. The opening track, “The Space Program,” opens with acapellic lyrics “It’s time to go left and not right, gotta get it together forever. Gotta get it together for brothers, gotta get it together for sisters, for mothers and fathers and dead niggas. For non-conformists, one hitter quitters, for Tyson types and Che figures.” This section of the chorus is sung by Q-Tip and Phife, both moving together and equally balancing out the phrases before gracefully landing into the first verse, which is delivered by Q-Tip.
The second that Q-Tip jumps onto the microphone, a wave of nostalgia washes over the listener. It is just like hearing The Low End Theory for the first time all over again. The quicker style that Q-Tip approaches to his verse, and the instrumental uses an electric piano and a thumping bass line. The percussion is a bouncing snare and bass combination that creates movement within the beat, keeping it fresh and “The Space Program” is an uplifting and conscious opening to an album that will discuss social issues, the past of the world, and what the future holds for mankind.
The following track, “We The People…,” opens with a synthesizer and a classic boom bap style of beat that Tribe Called Quest made so outstanding. Q-Tip opens this track, and delivers some thoughtful lyrics that borders upon the lines of spoken word and pure poetry. “Niggas in the hood living in a fishbowl, gentrify here, now it’s not a shit hole.” The chorus is also interesting as it displays the words, “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.”
After the more synthetic style of track, “Whateva Will Be” follows and trails around a more funk style of music. It uses a vinyl record crackle and hiss to lay down the background noise of the track, while what sounds like an upright bass plays the groove of the track. There is also a vocal sample that is chopped and constantly phases in and out of the beat. Then when paired with Q-Tip, Jarobi, and guest artist Consequence, the lyric’s contain an outstanding blend.
Seguing after is “Solid Wall of Sound,” this track opens with a minimalistic bass and snare beat before slowing layering on record scratches, different keyed instruments, and a sampled from “Benny and The Jets” from none other than Elton John. The track also includes a feature from MC Busta Rhymes, who had worked with A Tribe Called Quest before on their past projects and his feature adds some rapid fire lines to the track that is primarily a slower style. Other guest MC, DJ Rasta Root explains on the track that,
“The one that stood out to me, one of the last sessions Phife did there, if not the last one, was him, Tip, Busta and they we recording a song, I believe it’s the one that has the Elton John sample. And Busta, his cadence is so robotically crazy. He was doing a verse over and he did it the exact same way.”
Following on the coat-tails of “Solid Wall of Sound” comes the track, “Dis Generation.” Opening with a vocal chant and a bravado like intro, the track then takes a sharp turn with an electric guitar that sounds dreamy and relies on a significant use of space. The track takes several different stages as the main verse feature the guitar and a thumping bass as well as a clap beat. The second transition follows into the chorus where different chords of both a piano and guitar are played together, creating harmonies and it lets the rest of the instrumental breathe while the percussion takes a backseat to the stringed instruments.
The lyrics help shed more light upon the changing level of music as an art form, primarily rap music. “Talk to Joey, Earl, Kendrick, and Cole, gatekeepers of flow. They are extensions of instinctual soul.” Q-Tip gives a shout out to the “gatekeepers of flow,” explaining that rap music and music is not dead or struggling, the listener just needs to find out where to look for themselves.
“Kids” follows and is the first track that features a less than approachable beat and some sub-par verses. There were no lines that stuck out and this track feels like A Tribe Called Quest, but was just a little too challenging to find an interest in the beat and the semi-annoying near-announcement level that continually shouts “KIDS” throughout the track. It is passable as A Tribe Called Quest, but not on the level that the rest of the track from We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service is from.
The following track however, is much easier on the ears and features one of the better verses from Q-Tip on We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service. The instrumental is a slick guitar lick that continues over what sounds like a gunshot or some sort of percussive device as the snare line. “Melatonin” also features Abbey Smith who lays down an angelic style of chorus and background vocals and when paired with the more upbeat style of Q-Tip, it allows for one of the better combinations on the album. This is especially present when the two trade verses together and create this great use of letting the beat ride and the vocals intertwine. The lyrics, “So many thoughts in my mind, making it very hard to unwind,” still reigns as one of the better one liner-choruses on We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service.
Then comes the final track of the first disc, “Enough!!.” This is a smoother style of instrumental and it sounds straight out of a 90’s r ‘n b record. The organ like instrument is paired with a breakdown that moves the cymbal hits to a more rapid style. It also features singing from Q-Tip which is surprisingly able to stand on its own and add another level of depth to the already immensely diverse record. The track ends with the beat slowly becoming engulfed within itself, ending the first half of a new trip down memory lane.
The opening track to the second disc is Mobius, a piano and boom bap infused mix along with what sounds like a sitar that subtly strums in the background of the beat. Busta Rhymes has another feature on this track and his verse has some powerful bars that seem to flow effortlessly over the rather laid back instrumental. “I’m from a different cloth, we the oracles of the sounds. Skip town, hit ’em with impeccable pound.” These bars segue into the next track “Black Spasmodic” that features an outstanding hook from Consequence, and an even better verse from Phife Dawg.
The instrumental of “Black Spasmodic” is rather uplifting and relies on using piano harmonies and chords almost conflict with the verses featured on the track. Consequence opens the track by stating “They don’t make thugs of this caliber, who kept up the buzz the whole calendar. Used to sell drugs out the Challenger, Used to keep guns with the silencers.” Then Phife comes in with a killer verse stating “And how do you touch mic with flows uncertain? Speak game dry boy, that flow ain’t working. The track then ends with police sirens and Consequence’s verse being repeated until “The Killing Season” comes into frame.
Starting off with Talib Kweli delivering a powerful verse discussing his roots and how he is “bleeding through this mic, but they call it entertainment.” The track “The Killing Season” also features a hook/singing part from Kanye West where he repeats “They sold ya, sold ya, sold ya,” continuously and even ends the track in the same way. Before the track ends, the instrumental takes a beautiful turn it uses what sounds similar to a string ensemble where the rest of the beat has a much less aggressive style of percussion and lets the ensemble rule the main flow of the track.
Following is “Lost Somebody,” an outstanding track on every front. The frantic piano combined with the rattling bass line and the heartfelt lyrics about Phife who had passes only a few months before the release of We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service. The entire track feels like a constant battle with denial, but rather than sulking and falling cemented in depression, Tribe brings more of an uplifting style of production along side with their slightly darker style of lyrics. The verses here are again speaking of how Phife is “he’s in sunshine, he’s alright now, see his wings.”
Then almost without missing a beat, “Movin’ Backwards” follows and again like the track “Dis Generation,” it uses an electric guitar that starts the song off. The bass paired with the quick and jumping instrumental makes for one of the better, and faster tracks of We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service. There is also a breakdown that lets the guitar move down the fret board, almost taking a backseat to the Verse that comes from guest Anderson .Paak where he sings “They want to see my downfall, turn a good day into a downpour.” The beat continues to rock before falling into the next track.
A jazzy, and slightly shadowy instrumental floods in and is the start to “Conrad Tokyo.” This was another instantly great track and features none other than Kendrick Lamar for a nice bar and use of a chorus as well. Most of the features on We Got It From Here… Thank You For Your Service allows the artist to illustrate a chorus rather than a full verse and jumping into the next track. This was an intriguing way to handle the features and something that had never really been done before. The features might only say a quick 8 lines before handing the microphone right back to Q-Tip, Phife or Jarobi.
The second to last track, “Ego” is a double part track where the first half sounds like a much more claustrophobic example of “Excursions,” the second half is a rise in energy where the beat complete changes in a near bi-polar, split-second innovation. There are also some superior lyrics that act in contrast as well, “Some may hate it and some may overrate it. It’s a top story and you rarely see a trend, so all you psychoanalysts pull out your pad and pen.” Then Q-Tip goes on to say “Come up with an idea, and no one seems to get it. Then every time you mention it, they stare like you’re two-headed.”
The finale of We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service is “The Donald.” A track that is another tribute to Phife as the chorus is all about Phife’s alter ego Don Juice. The entire track features bars about how much Phife will be missed in not just A Tribe Called Quest and their members, but in the community as a whole. Phife and Tribe Called Quest were able to change the world, inspire artists, and leave an everlasting mark on the world. Phife, The Five-Foot Assassin, Don Juice, Malik Taylor, all names he would be known by, the most common would be friend.