For those of us old and crusty enough to have witnessed that golden era first-hand, the last half decade has felt like one big ’90s flashback daydream. We watched all misty-eyed, hearts full of pride as kids everywhere traded in their hipster-knits and 1900s hair-dos for loud-as-fuck jumpers and greasy undercuts, started obsessing over Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and bumping Eazy-Duz-It out of their clapped-out Corollas JUST LIKE WE USED TO DO. Oh, to be young again… *wipes away single tear*
But despite the unlimited access to a world of information, we carry around in our pockets every day now, this revival of sorts has been a surprisingly selective one. For every Fresh Prince remembered, it feels like there’s a Kid ‘n Play completely overlooked. Likewise, kids went insane over the NWA movie and everything gangsta rap came back into fashion, but for every NWA remembered there’s a Brand Nubian forgotten. For every 2pac there’s a KRS-One, for every Boyz N The Hood there’s a New Jack City. So when I read the news from Q-Tip that A Tribe Called Quest had one more left in the clip to deliver, I was a little unsure of what kind of reception they’d get; I certainly wasn’t hearing any ‘Award Tour‘ bumping out of anybody’s clapped out Corollas. As it turns out, I should have never, ever underestimated the love and respect that the name A Tribe Called Quest still demands.
The most remarkable thing about We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service is the impeccable grace with which it’s delivered. It would have been completely in their right for Tribe to come out guns blazing, all fireworks and confetti like the returning heroes that they are. But instead of taking the moment to puff their chests out and bask in the glory of it all, they utilise their final moment on record to turn the focus on to the group as an idea unto itself, taking a step back to pay their respects alongside the fans to the entity that is A Tribe Called Quest. From the moment those organ strikes start melting in around that signature give-and-take vocal syncopation of Q-Tip and Phife Dawg on ‘The Space Program’, you can feel it in the air – this is a celebration. Not a statement, or a push for money or power (like so many comeback albums), but a genuine celebration of their legacy and continuing influence on music today. Lead single ‘We The People’ hits you right in the solar plexus with this gut-churning beat that makes your head nod and skin crawl in equal parts, Phife Dawg murdering the entire last half and showcasing exactly why he had every right to call himself the Five Foot Assassin. The big bass boom-bap of ‘Whateva Will Be‘ and the mesmerising ‘Solid Walls of Sound’ are perfect examples of that loop-heavy style that put the Tribe name in the history books, the latter featuring this lush, reverb-soaked hook sampled from Elton John’s Benny and the Jets that stays with you for days after.
‘Dis Generation’ hits like a face full of sunshine on a perfect Sunday, with all Tribe members (including long-lost brother Busta Rhymes) flexing their vocal dexterity by dropping in and around each other like they were playing hot potato with the mic. The track serves as an interesting pivot-point for the album; lyrically, they touch on the legacy the group has left behind and the influence they’ve had on the musical landscape, which is notable because until that point the album had been non-self-referential for the most part. But from ‘Dis Generation’ forward, it’s like the group opens up the stage to pass the torch live to all the younger bucks that bear the mark of A Tribe Called Quest, inviting their hip-hop nieces and nephews to come celebrate with their big uncles at their last show ever like a musical living funeral. Legend in his own right, Outkast’s Andre 3000 comes out the box downright hungry on the suitably abstract ‘Kids…’, and UK R&B songstress Marsha Ambrosius creates this hazy, hypnotising atmosphere around Tip’s rapid-fire delivery on ‘Melatonin’ before taking the spotlight for herself at the very end. Talib Kweli kicks the door down like a god damn monster on ‘The Killing Fields‘ which also features arguably the most successful Tribe student of all, Yeezus himself on a very modest and touching hook – full credit to Kanye for paying his respects with such class. In addition to this already stellar cast of characters, Jack White features on several tracks, Anderson .Paak‘s work on the uplifting ‘Movin’ Backwards’ is simply sublime, and even King Kunta himself, Mr. Kendrick Lamar turns up towards the end to show some love on the silky slick head-knocker ‘Conrad Tokyo’.
It wouldn’t be a Tribe Called Quest album without a cautionary tale, and they saved us an absolute doozy for last – Phife and Tip clear the stage and take the mics up together for one last time on the new Tribe classic Ego, taking no prisoners and making sure you never forget the reason you know their names in the first place – nobody does it better. Finally, they close the album out with an incredibly touching tribute to our fallen brother Phife in ‘The Donald’, and let the beat ride off with them into the sunset. Now that’s the way you end a career. A Tribe Called Quest, with the utmost love and respect, thank you for your service.