Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, J. Cole, Chance The Rapper, Travis Scott, YG, ScHoolboy Q, Young Thug, Future, Danny Brown, Vince Staples, Isaiah Rashad, Ab-Soul, Mac Miller, Gucci Mane, Common, Jeezy, Meek Mill. If nothing else, 2016 was a banner year for rap albums.
Despite the best efforts from all the current kings, rising rookies, and leftfield favorites, it was the unlikeliest of legends who dropped the best hip-hop album this year.
Tribe’s first album in 18 years! was the headline when the beloved Queens collective announced their comeback just weeks ago, but We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service is so much more than that. It’s Q-Tip and Phife Dawg’s heartwarming reconciliation after almost two decades of tension; it’s a fitting farewell to the Five Foot Assassin, who tragically passed away eight months prior to the album’s release; and it’s simultaneously the grand return and last hurrah of one of the greatest rap groups of all time.
From the beats to the rhymes to the larger-than-life collaborations, We got it from Here… strikes the delicate—and difficult—balance of building something new on a foundation of nostalgia. Q-Tip’s heavily ’70s-sampling (Elton John, Black Sabbath, Nairobi Sisters) soundbeds feel kindred to Tribe’s jazzy and soulful spirit, only with more funk, more bite, and more urgency. The outer space grooves of “Kids” and “Conrad Tokyo,” meanwhile, hit you like curveballs traveling at light speed into the near future.
Lyrically, Tribe’s finger is very much on the pulse of today, though. On “We the People,” the bombastic single that was brought to life on SNL, Q-Tip bangs on the door of Donald Trump’s White American Utopia. On “The Killing Season,” Jarobi ties a rope between Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” and 2016. On “Conrad Tokyo,” Phife doesn’t need to see Trump get sworn into office to know the country is ruined.
Tribe didn’t plan to release We got it from Here… four days before the Presidential election when they began work on the album last November, but their return couldn’t be more timely. Songs like “We the People” and “The Killing Season” feed off the same energy as YG’s “FDT” and Kendrick Lamar’s “The Blacker The Berry.” But as ’70s babies who grew up during both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan's eras, Tribe’s perspective is perhaps even more valuable. “Sit and wonder sometimes, I read the paper every day / All these happenings is circular, just happen different ways,” Q-Tip observes on “The Space Program.”
Beyond the political commentary and protest anthems, We got it from Here… is just fun—the way Q-Tip and André 3000 moan and groan on “Kids,” the way Phife Dawg revels in his ruff neck patois on “Solid Wall of Sound,” and the way Busta Rhymes turns into the Tasmanian Devil on the Mobb Deep-inspired “Mobius.” Combine all three and you get magical moments like “Dis Generation,” which finds Tip, Phife, Busta and Jarobi trading bars with the kind of telepathic ease that only comes from 26 years of rapping excellence and deep-rooted friendship.
Phife may be gone, but Tribe is forever.
By Andy James. You can follow him on Twitter.