A Tribe Called Quest’s first new album in 18 years was not expected.
Phife Dawg’s death this past March left the hip-hop group in mourning. The iconic act formed as teens in New York City 30 years ago, went through relationship ups and downs leading to their breakup, documented in the 2011 film Beats, Rhymes & Life. It was unclear whether their bond—particularly between front-men Phife and Q-Tip—was healed before the transition. For fans hoping for a reunion, these were signs that the dream was over.
This is why We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service is Tribe’s revelation. Artists aren’t required to give their fans an orthodox goodbye, but Tribe gives us bittersweet closure in revealing the chemistry was in fact still there. And although not intended to be at first, the final opus is an official dedication to the late Malik Izaak Taylor. Its messages speak greatly to our present societal strife. It’s clear this album was meant to be.
Without the public’s knowledge, Phife Dawg spent the final year of his life with his brothers recording at Tip’s New Jersey home studio, reliving their old days: back when they made their mark as one of hip-hop’s greatest during the golden era; back when they were black boys from the ‘hood who brought another spectrum of blackness and masculinity that was a little out there and wasn’t overly braggadocios; back when they shaped a sound that made way for genre benders in hip-hop such as OutKast, Pharrell Williams and Kanye West.
On this record, the sound of Tribe remains poignant. We feel some of the early boom bap influence with soul samples, funk, scratching and experimental ethereal sounds. It’s futuristic hip-hop soul at its finest. Divided into two volumes, eight tracks each, we hear features from Busta Rhymes, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, Andre 3000 and Jack White, who gets busy on the beats with guitar cameos.
Also, the messages on We Got It From Here are too on time.
Vol. 1’s opening “The Space Program,” is a sobering reminder that for black people there is no physical way of escaping oppression. On the last few seconds of the track, Phife Dawg gives the forewarning while chanting, “Gotta get it together for brothers/Gotta get it together for sisters/For mothers and fathers and dead n***as/For non-conformers, won’t hear the quitters.”
On “We The People,” the rappers get at America’s bigotry against people of color, women, poor people, Muslims and LGBT people. “N***as in the hood living in a fishbowl/Gentrify here, now it’s not a sh*t hole,” Tip raps. Phife brings his go-to punchlines and sports references. “Dreaming of a world that’s equal for women with no division/Boy, I tell you that’s vision/Like Tony Romo when he hitting Witten,” he spits.
On Vol. 2, “Lost Somebody” is a mellow memoriam of Phife. Tip admits to their loving differences. “Malik, I would treat you like little brother that would give you fits/Sometimes overbearing though I thought it was for your benefit,” he bleeds. Jarobi adds, “Never thought that I would be ever writing this song/Hold friends tight, never know when those people are gone.”
According to Tip, the title of the album doesn’t have a meaning. “We’re just going with it because he liked it,” he told the New York Times.
But the words “We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service” feel prescient to America’s social climate. Those already targeted and marginalized by President-elect Donald Trump’s hate speech are reimagining what their lives will be. This means finding ways to reclaim powe, to reclaim self and to reclaim safe space. It means letting go of the old and embracing the new. All along, Phife was leaving us with prophetic message needed to get us through what’s next.