Countless monumental musicians have passed away this year. While it’s hard to find a bit of light in all of these deaths, some musicians knowingly produced one last piece of work for us to enjoy. What a treat those records have been: David Bowie’s Blackstar is a stunning album, and so is the latest A Tribe Called Quest, We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service. This album marks the seminal hip hop group’s first release in 18 years, released after founding member Phife Dawg’s death earlier this March.
A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ) are of the early hip hop practice that has several MCs trading bars, rhymes and beats freely amongst themselves. When news broke of We Got It From Here, fans worried about Phife Dawg’s absence on the album, but Q-Tip, the group’s de facto leader, urged fans not to worry. I’m glad I listened to him. Not only is Phife Dawg all over this album – much of We Got It From Here was recorded before his untimely death – his presence and mortality is felt in every bar that he isn’t rapping.
“Black Spasmodic”, a cut halfway through the album, is a great example. In his verse, Q- Tip channels Phife, speaking from his posthumous point of view, and using the song to come to terms with Phife’s death. Tip’s bars ring true; it feels like a genuine Phife Dawg verse in a world now void of new ones, a simultaneous confrontation and celebration of mortality. It’s a shining moment in an album full of standout bars and beats.
We Got It From Here feels decidedly retro; this is not an album attempting to reinvent ATCQ’s sound to meet modern standards. Rather, this album is an extension of their sound, a seamless fit in their legendary discography. The beats and samples on the album never miss a step; each song is jazzy, layered and funky as hell – check out “Solid Wall of Sound” in particular. Features, too, are well chosen, ranging from old school rappers like Busta Rhymes to the new generation of instinctual soul musicians, like Kendrick Lamar and Anderson Paak.
We Got It From Here finds more lyrical and sonic content for listeners to enjoy over its hour-long runtime. ATCQ has never been a group to back away from political content, but this album finds them reaching new levels of poignancy and timeliness. “We the People….”, the album’s second track, makes a hook out of Q-Tip listing marginalized communities who fear deportation and hate crimes, while “Conrad Tokyo” finds Phife Dawg criticizing the comedy that media outlets put out in this latest election cycle and Trump’s rise to power.
We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service is a great album and well worth your time. It’s also a securing of a legacy for the group, a celebration of life, and a refreshing reminder of where modern hip-hop came from. Phife Dawg may be gone, but his music has never felt so essential. This album shines, it radiates and it bumps with life.