Brad Warrington weighs in on A Tribe Called Quest’s first - and last – album together in 18 years.
It’s been 18 years since A Tribe Called Quest last released an album, their often forgotten long player, The Love Movement. It can be tricky for any artist or group to navigate the waters of a new album after a well-documented fallout and long sabbatical. Add in the untimely passing of Malik ‘Phife Dawg’ Taylor in March this year.
The silver lining is Taylor managed to hit the studio prior to his death and has left us with his last thoughts, flows and rhymes laid down like a time capsule of poetry throughout the album. With egos put aside, this release is both a comeback and a send-off.
Billed as Tribe’s final album, it features collaborations with Jack White, Busta Rhymes, Kanye West and Andre 3000 who all bringing their ‘A’ game. Elton John appears on the track ‘Solid Wall of Sound’ while the new school is represented with Anderson Paak and Kendrick Lamar, their styles effortlessly complimenting the Tribe sound.
Many narratives run through the album: the current political landscape, the loss of a friend, and the group’s legacy. We Got It From Here couldn't have arrived at a more divisive time in the US, coming three days after Trump’s presidential victory. The first track ‘The Space Program’ gets straight to the point, the hook imploring us to “go left and not right”. The beat has that unmissable warm round bottom end, and the uncluttered stripped back jazzy funk arrangements that Q Tip is renowned for.
The lead single, ‘We The People’ is another politically charged call to arms with pointed digs at Trump’s election narratives. Qtip and Phife’s chemistry is something special. Phife’s witty punch lines and Qtip’s high energy nasally delivery complement each other in an effortless way. The beats are driving and buttery and are the ultimate vehicle for their complementary rhyme style.
The passing of Phife Dawg is an undeniable theme in the album with tracks ‘The Donald’ which is a ruffneck nod to one of Phife’s many personas Don Juice, featuring Busta Rhymes ragga muffin stylie, and ‘Lost Someone’ which is an emotional tribute to the ‘Five Foot Assassin’. You can really relate to the pain and grief felt by his friends in this track.
The thing I love is the album plays back more like a mix tape from the 90s, a la Sound Bombing and Lyricist Lounge, where songs are mixed and morph together with samples cut and pasted to create a sonically seamless mix. Tribe’s jazzy boom bap sound hasn’t dated. If anything, artists like J Cole, Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar have made the sound relevant to a whole new generation. It’s not surprising Lamar’s style married beautifully on the jazz-fused track ‘Conrad Tokyo’
By and large, We Got It From Here has the classic Tribe sound that a die-hard or new fan will vibe with, but at times it can feel like a Q-Tip solo project. This isn’t surprising since 99% of it was recorded at his studio in New York. Yet against many odds, it’s an album that reinvigorates the group’s legacy without resting on the nostalgia of the past. It is a fitting, even bittersweet, farewell - for Phife and perhaps for A Tribe Called Quest as an entity.
Songs featured: Solid Wall Of Sound, Go, The Space Programme, Conrad Tokyo, Lost Somebody.
We Got It From Here… Thank You For Your Service is available on Epic Records.