Arriving 18 years after what was thought to be the group’s final effort, 1998’s The Love Movement, A Tribe Called Quest’s We Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service is both the product of both a surprise reunion and an abrupt farewell.
Boasting guest appearances by regular collaborators Consequence and Busta Rhymes, as well as contemporary marquee names like Andre 3000, Kendrick Lamar, and Jack White (of all people), the album is weighed down heavily by the passing of founding member Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor, who died suddenly at the end of March—shortly after recording sessions for the record began.
And, unfortunately, the album is also weighed down by bloated, noisy, cacophonic, and confusion production values and flourishes—all of which make it a very different, dense, and difficult sounding effort from the group.
Tensions between Phife and the group’s defacto leader, Q-Tip, as well as ongoing issues with their record label, contributed to the original split; but Tribe subsequently reunited around eight years later for sporadic touring, and they used the opportunity of supporting Kanye West during the Yeezus tour to perform what, at the time, had been deemed their final shows.
Late last year, a massive reissue campaign was announced, and to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its debut album, People’s Instinctive Travels and The Paths of Rhythm was re-released and remastered. To promote it, the four original members of the group (including the elusive Jarobi White) performed on “The Tonight Show”—an event that served the catalyst for the group reconciling and heading back into the studio.
Split up into two, eight-song suites, We Got it From Here clocks in neatly at a little over an hour.
However, the material is not sequenced into songs written and completed before and after Phife’s passing—he makes appearances throughout, turning up on around eight songs total. The entire backstory behind the making of the album creates, at times, a rather haunting and somber listening experience.
Maybe the initial difficulty that I found with We Got it From Here during my first few listens is that the sense of urgency surrounding—it’s a record made for these times, informed by these times—and that’s something I have never associated with A Tribe Called Quest.
The group itself, or rather, the idea of the group, is a product of a different time: the 1990s.We Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service, however, removes them from the safety and nostalgia of those confines, and the results are rather jarring. As a whole, the free-wheeling sense of humor, as well as the mostly laid back, moderately reflective, and for lack of a better descriptor,“fun” vibes found on early Tribe albums like People’s Instinctive and their sophomore effort The Low End Theory are gone, and in 2016, have been replaced with much larger, and heavier, sounds and ideas.
A prime example of this is change can be found in the one-two punch the album opens with—the lengthy “Space Program” makes use of the group’s penchant for cutting and pasting out of context samples, as well as slightly awkward musical segues, while the group tries to rally a call to arms: “Gotta get it together for brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers and dead ni**as,” Q-Tip and Phife chant breathlessly.
This song then crashes (literally) into the incredibly bombastic “We The People…,” which finds both MCs at their most political and possibly prophetic—fitting, I suppose, given the outcome of the Presidential election—“All you Black folk, you must go,” begins the song’s refrain. “All you Mexicans, you must go. And all you poor folks, you must go. Muslims and gays—boy we hate your ways.”
The bombast continues with the interpolation of a “Benny and The Jets” sample in the driving “Solid Wall of Sound.” Elton John himself makes a legitimate appearance in the song’s outro; later, cacophony continues with the Andre 3000 feature on the glitchy, restrained “Kids….”
The first section concludes with the slow burning, smooth, and self-referencing “Enough!!,” which then descends into an out of control echo, that lands head first into the opening of “Mobius,” the first song in the second half of the record, one of many that features Busta Rhymes—here, he delivers an impressive, breakneck guest verse.
From the momentWe Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service was unveiled, it has been lauded on the internet—words like “incredible” and “beautiful” have been used to describe it.
It’s being looked at as a form of comfort in the wake of Donald Trump being elected our next President. All this hyperbole has me wondering if I’m doing it wrong, you know? Like, what about this album am I missing?
I don’t dislike it.
No—far from it, actually. But for all its urgency, it also has a surprising lack of immediacy. It’s a slow, deliberate album; the kind that reveals itself to you over time, giving you ample opportunities to unpack the density and layering. It also keeps you at an arm’s length, which is a sharp contrast to the rather inviting atmosphere Tribe were known for during their initial run.
Stacked with sixteen tracks, not every one of them can be successful. In fact, some of them can be downright frustrating to listen to—you may as well skip over the final track, “The Donald” (surprisingly not about Trump.) However, buried within We Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service is some real standout material—the first of which is the triumphant sounding “Dis Generation,” which is one of the few songs that comes close to capturing the excitement of the group’s original material as Q-Tip, Phife, Jarobi, and Busta all trade bars with an unrelenting, feel-good energy.
Found within the second half of the album is the pensive, somber double shot of “The Killing Season” and “Lost Somebody”—the former featuring Kanye West singing the refrain, and verses from Consequence and Talib Kwali, while the latter is probably the album’s most personal track—dedicated to, and written about the life of Phife Dawg.
On the fuzzy “Movin’ Backwards,” Jarobi White opens the song by saying, “I hope my legendary style of rap lives on”—that, overall, is something White doesn’t have to worry about. Tribe’s first three albums are all considered to be both highly influential and classics within the genre. The question with We Got it From Here is, as with any late career entry from a great/important artist is: what will it do to their legacy?
We Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service will not hurt the legacy of A Tribe Called Quest.
It’s important enough of a release (based on the backstory alone) that it won’t become a footnote in the group’s history. Only the passage of time will tell how fondly this will be looked upon down the line—if it will be widely regarded, or if will be “the album they were making when Phife died.”
Far from perfect, and despite how cumbersome and awkward We Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service can be at times, it is a listen that expects your patience and attention, and in return, it becomes more and more listenable and enjoyable each time you return to it.
Rating: 3.75 out of 5