Today, A Tribe Called Quest released their new album (I'm still trying to process that).
Serving as Tribe’s first album in 18 years, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service is the long-awaited return of one of the most important rap groups of all time. Even the most optimistic fan couldn’t have predicted this a year ago, especially given the long-running tension between Q-Tip and Phife Dawg. But then again, stranger things have happened (shouts to Compton and Black Messiah).
If last month’s announcement alone didn’t make you lose your shit like Busta Rhymes on “Scenario,” the guest list for the album will. We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service features a dream team supporting cast that includes Kendrick Lamar, André 3000, Busta Rhymes, Anderson .Paak, Jack White, Talib Kweli, Consequence and Elton John.
The most important person on the album, however, is the one no longer with us. In March, Phife Dawg passed away at age 45 due to complications resulting from diabetes. We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service contains some of the last rhymes he ever recorded. More importantly, it represents a renewed relationship between The Abstract and the five-footer, the two Queens kids who used to kick routines on the boulevard of Linden—and changed hip-hop in the process.
“I seen them laughing and joking and high-fiving, and you can just see that young, invigorated ‘we’re-just-getting-our-first-opportunity-to-do-this’ energy again!” Busta Rhymes toldThe New York Times of Q-Tip and Phife’s reunion. But that only made Phife’s passing all the more painful. “It’s so hard for me to sit in there and hear his voice,” Q-Tip said about working on the album. “Sometimes I just have to like take a break and walk away. It gets heavy.”
We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service is my first 1-Listen review here on DJBooth, and what a way to pop the cherry. Per traditional 1-Listen rules, I must listen from start to finish without stopping, editing, rewinding or fast-forwarding. Everything I write will be based on my gut reaction. Let’s get this award tour started…
1. The Space Program
Ok, we’re kicking off with the sweet sounds of Q-Tip’s nasally voice, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. “Uhh, it’s time to go left and not right. Time to get it together forever. Got to get it together for brothers. Got to get it together for sisters. For mothers and fathers and dead n*ggas.” Yep, this album is gonna be important. Tip just said “word to Phife,” which makes me so happy. I’m less than two minutes in and Q-Tip and Jarobi are rapping their asses off. This production sounds like the ’70s. AND HERE’S PHIFE DAWG. He’s repeating Tip’s intro over and over and the beat sounds like we’re currently ascending into space. Climbing…climbing…climbing…And wait, is that a sample from the original Willy Wonka?! That was kinda scary. I get the feeling this is album is gonna do that: make you feel high as a kite but tug you back down to Earth at the last second with a dose of reality. Also, this is Q-Tip’s favorite song.
2. We The People….
Woah, those opening chords sound like Yeezus. And those drums sound like the Bomb Squad. Holy shit, is this Q-Tip’s evil cousin?! “You ain’t a killer, dawg? Good, young n*gga move / When we get hungry we eat the same fucking food.” Now he’s talking about a bad bitch in his lap who “gon’ take the brain or weather plain, she spit on that.” Hahaha, he just rhymed “fish bowl” with “shit hole” and his voice broke so high. This chorus sounds like The Smiths mocking Donald Trump. “All you Black folks, you must go / All you Mexicans, you must go.” Fuck Donald Trump! Now it’s Phife’s turn and he’s sprinkling patois on the mic. Bloodclat!
Two songs in and we’ve got Tribe’s FDT anthem. I love this album already.
3. Whateva Will Be
HOLY SHIT THAT BASS. ALL DUE RESPECT TO NXWORRIES BUT THIS IS THE FUNKIEST SHIT I’VE HEARD ALL YEAR. I PROBABLY LOOK LIKE THE WHITE BIG QUINT RIGHT NOW. Oh man, Phife is going on. “Are you amused by our struggles? Fuck you and who you think I should be.” Jarobi and Q-Tip next in line—this is a good old fashioned cypher over one of the funkiest loops I’ve heard in my life. Time for Consequence to bring it home. “Everywhere I go being cold is the criteria / Let’s see how well you know all your Tribe trivia.” Cons is underrated, man.
4. Solid Wall of Sound (ft. Busta Rhymes & Elton John)
Nice little change of pace here. The first minute is a slow build-up of smacking drums, acoustic guitar and vocal samples. And how sweet the payoff is. Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and Busta Rhymes are taking turns singing and rapping in patois over this heavenly piano melody. Tip’s even copying Busta’s flow. A wild Elton John appears! We are fully at Heaven’s Gates right now, and Elton is like Saint Peter giving us a warm, musical welcome. I’m not sure how long this high will last, though; these clouds could evaporate by the time this song ends.
5. Dis Generation
Update: we’re still floating. “Dis Generation” could have easily been a scathing critique of today’s society, but this sounds so hopeful and uplifting. Q-Tip and Phife Dawg are trading bars like “Check the Rhime” over these bright, funky guitar licks. Tip just shouted out Joey, Earl, Kendrick and Cole! “They the gatekeepers of flow / They are extensions of instinctual soul.” Busta’s back, and he just rapped to himself in third person. Oooh, this outro is nice. Q-Tip hitting them Bilal notes over jazzy keys. Kinda Kamaal/The Abstract-esque.
6. Kids… (ft. André 3000)
Woah, 3 Stacks right off the bat. Why keep anyone waiting for an Andre verse, right? “I pour out some liquor on the cops’ graves.” This sounds like 3 Stacks’ Speakerboxxx. Q-Tip has been hilarious so far. Now he’s rapping like kid throwing a tantrum cause he doesn’t want to go to school: “Mommmm, I think you fuckin’ lied to me / Three Stacks said all this shit is fantasyyyy.” Everything about this third verse is crazy: there’s random video game-style synths firing in the background while Andre 3000 and Q-Tip trade lines about “young n*ggas acting like a bunch of retired tired thespians.” I can’t even imagine what that Tribe x OutKast album would have sounded like.
This one would sound right at home on The Renaissance: Q-Tip spitting over funky instrumentation alongside a female voice (which I don’t recognize, but sounds nice). As for the title, melatonin helps control your sleep and wake cycles (I just Googled that because I’m not a doctor) but it sounds like Tip prescribes this for almost everything: for when he feels sad, when he wants to feel strong and when he wants to live long. Where do I sign?
Man, this album is going in so many different musical directions. This track sounds like a ‘90s R&B jam with a scratched sample of the sitar from “Bonita Applebum” (or, more accurately, Rotary Connection’s “Memory Band”). Jarobi handles the first verse while Q-Tip takes hook and second verse duties. Tip’s asking if “you feel the same way I do,” but I’m not sure I do. Jay-Z-ehhh.gif.
9. Mobius (ft. Consequence & Busta Rhymes)
So that was “side A.” Now we’re starting “side B.” What better way to tap into cassette-era nostalgia than transporting us back to ’90s New York? This track screams Mobb Deep: the chilling production, Consequence’s crack era tales. He even tips his Yankees fitted to Prodigy: “I break bread, ribs, hundred dollar bills.” Oh shit, another beat switch-up and now Busta’s going in! I’m actually glad I couldn’t find the guest features anywhere, because the only thing more exciting than the ever-changing production is hearing someone leap out from behind the speakers and tear apart a track.
10. Black Spasmodic (ft. Consequence)
It’s been a minute since we heard from Phife, but he’s back in the cypher here. “Little half-ass rappers, y’all pissin’ me off / Time to dead ’em all off, yo, no matter the cause,” Q-Tip warns. The beat reminds me of Captain Sensible’s “Happy Talk” (which I only know through Dizzee Rascal’s “Dream”). It has that same dated, playground bounce to it, which suits Phife’s Trinidadian flow and personality. Q-Tip comes through at the end, and wasn’t lying about that whole “dead em all off” thing; he’s snapping.
11. The Killing Season (ft. Talib Kweli, Kanye West & Consequence)
A) Talib Kweli referenced all four seasons in like five lines B) Consequence hasn’t had it this good since Beats, Rhymes & Life, and C) YES, THAT’S KANYE WEST ON THE HOOK. I had to quickly check Genius if that was really him. At first I was like, “wait, that kinda sounds like Kanye.” And then I was like, “why would they announce features from Kendrick and Andre, but not Kanye?” Probably because Tribe didn’t want to disappoint people with another Kanye-feature-that’s-not-actually-a-verse (see: Pusha T “M.P.A.,” Chief Keef “Nobody,” Busta Rhymes “Thank You”). Anyway, this is probably the most political song since “We The People…”
12. Lost Somebody (ft. Jack White)
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t completely in love with the last three or four songs, but this right here is already one of my favorites. You can hazard a guess at what (or who) “Lost Somebody” is about. “Yeah Phife, for your life,” Q-Tip says before he and Jarobi pay tribute to their fallen brother. “Despite all the spastic shit and cinematic we documented / The one thing I appreciate, you and I, we never pretended / Rhymes we would write it out, hard times, fight it out / Made race face to face, made it right / And now you riding out, out, out, out.” Throw in the melancholy production and you’ll be reaching for the tissues.
(Sidebar: The song ends abruptly, then there’s like 10 seconds of silence before we hear Jack White jamming out on his electric guitar. I have no idea what to make of this).
13. Movin Backwards (ft. Anderson .Paak)
Yes lawd! The Anderson .Paak appearance we’ve all been waiting for. But first, shouts to Jarobi for dropping one of the best verses of the entire album. The way he bends his multi-syllabic, multi-lingual rhymes around the funky guitar (“Never ever ghostwritten, yo shit free, bitten / Grab my shooter both hands / Iron grip, steel mitten”). Did I mention this guy’s a full-time chef?! The next four minutes are all about Anderson .Paak. His verses are too good to be off-the-dome (what singer has bars like “It’s not a cruise that brought us here”?) but I swear it sounds like he’s freestyling, as if every emotional twinge is guiding his raspy, soal-soaked voice. Even if you’ve got your shit together, when Anderson asks, “do you ever feel lost?” you can’t help but to say, “yes,” and burst into tears.
14. Conrad Tokyo (ft. Kendrick Lamar)
Phife Dawg and Kendrick Lamar on a song together? Maybe 2016 isn’t so bad after all. I’m digging this production, it kinda sounds like Little Dragon. Phife kicks things off lamenting CNN, Trump and, well, the entire country. At least Phife won’t have to suffer through a Trump presidency. And here comes King Kendrick rapping like the crown isn’t already his. Toleration for devastation…Obama nation…red and blue laces—I can’t even keep up with what he’s saying, but I know it’s absolutely flames. Just when you thought the beat had been laid to rest, it grows back even bigger and groovier. I’m not sure what more impressive: the penmanship or the production.
15. Ego (ft. Jack White)
And I thought some of the other songs were unpredictable. The first minute of “Ego” sounds like “Excursion”’s—cousin all creeping, low-end bass. And then it blossoms into this bright, beautiful, jazzy song that’s probably the closest thing to Midnight Marauders on this album. Just when you’re feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, the beat descends back into The Low End Theory territory. This cycle continues for the rest of the song. At one point, Jack White shows up like, “hey, mind if I shred real quick?” The only constant throughout the record is Q-Tip, who raps along unperturbed by the rapidly changing scenery. “This is the last Tribe and our ego hopes that you felt us / And closing for our ego, we know only God can help us.”
16. The Donald (ft. Busta Rhymes)
I know I’ve said “holy shit!” like half a dozen times already, but seriously, what am I listening to right now?! Busta Rhymes is dreads-deep in patois, spitting a verse dedicated to Phife Dawg. Man, I wish he would’ve just joined Tribe for real back in the day. And now the five-foot assassin himself is on the mic. I just realized this is basically his farewell speech, but at least he makes it count: “No subliminals with me, you know who the fuck you are.” “Off top on the spot, no reading from your Blackberry.” “Fuck your ass-cheek flows with bars sweeter than scones.” Listen up, rappers.
I guess this isn’t the anti-Donald Trump anthem we thought it was going to be, but who cares? This song, this album, this moment is about celebrating A Tribe Called Quest’s return and Phife Dawg’s life.
I don’t want to make any bold statements about We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service. I’ve literally heard it once. An album this dense, this historic, deserves to be digested properly with time. But like Common said, “it don’t take a whole day to recognize sunshine.” And it don’t take more than one listen to hear how special this album is.
We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service contains traces of classic A Tribe Called Quest, but is an entirely fresh and exciting addition to their already-glittering catalog. The production is rooted in the soil of Tribe’s soulful, gritty sound, but is allowed to blossom in any direction—funk, rock, even a little electro—and at any pace it wants. Lyrically, the album feels necessary for right now.
In a recent appearance on The New York Times' popcast, writer Touré, who interviewed A Tribe Called Quest for the publication, revealed a conversation he had with Q-Tip about this album. Tip said to him, “I want to be grown-up with this—how do I do that?” After hearing the album, it’s amazing that he even asked that question. We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service feels like nothing but a natural evolution; an instinctive step forward in Tribe’s path of rhythm.
A Tribe Called Quest has always been much more than just four guys making great music together. The brother-like bond between Tip, Phife, Ali and Jarobi is the bedrock of their albums. Even after 18 years apart, that foundation of friendship was strong enough for Tribe to reunite like they never left.
Album of the year contender? All I can say is that We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service is a very good album, and it's so good to have A Tribe Called Quest back (rest in power, Phife!)
I’ll definitely be playing this album more than once tonight.
By Andy James. Follow him on Twitter.