18 years have passed since the release of A Tribe Called Quest’s penultimate project The Love Movement, and as tensions within the group began to come to light in the 2011 documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest, it had seemed unlikely that the 1999 hiatus would come to a close. Yet, with sporadic link-ups for live shows and public celebrations of past efforts, rumours of a prophetic sixth Tribe album ran wild. But with the passing of founding member and pivotal voice Phife Dawg last spring, many who had followed the group from their earliest days may have felt that the sixth album would remain buried as the talk of legend. However, there has always been a certain omnipotent spirituality in Tribe’s methods of articulation, more than capable of leaving its mark on people and societies throughout the nineties, remaining timeless into the present day and undoubtedly far into the beyond. Just a couple of weeks after Phife’s death he released Nutshell, a profiling summary cementing the rapper as a continually groundbreaking figure at the forefront of global hip-hop culture. So perhaps we should have seen We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service coming.
2016 being the year that it has been for hip-hop, it seems a fitting home for the conclusive episode in the Tribe Saga. The collective's highly anticipated reunion in 2015 for Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show had clearly reaffirmed old relationships, sparking the desire to produce a host of secretive new material in Q-Tip’s home studio. It has now become audible that the members of the original group had decided to reassemble for one last album. With a star-studded bill of friends and features - including Kendrick Lamar, Jack White, André 3000, Elton John, Kanye West, Anderson .Paak, and Talib Kweli - Consequence and Busta Rhymes become celebrated Tribe members after sharing so much history with the group, creating not just a celebration of the past, but a crowning and progressive edition to A Tribe Called Quest’s discography. It’s an album of tirelessly buoyant positivity in a drowning America, voicing the strength of hip-hop’s capacities in the bleakest of social climates, and the solidarity of good friendship.
The elusive Jarobi, the thoughtful and introspective Q-Tip, and Phife - possessor of one of the most innovative flows to grace the planet, open the album with The Space Programme, a call for uprising, advocating the potential that young people possess to inspire change through rebellion. Phife raps, "Time to go left and not right, Gotta get it together forever, Gotta get it together for brothers. Gotta get it together for sisters, For non-conformers, won’t hear the quitters, For Tyson types and Che figures, Let’s make somethin' happen, let’s make somethin' happen." It’s immediately identifiable with Tribe and delivered with a 2016-polished wordplay, lyricism, natural chemistry and radiating warmth that flows throughout the duration of this impeccable, feel-good record.
Dis Generation captures the renewed chemistry in the group, returning focus to the relationships between the emcees, mocking modern society and jovially bouncing off each other. Perhaps its the epitome of friends who share the same Native Tongues history working so extensively together in the home studio environment; Busta Rhymes claims to be "Bruce Leein' niggas, while you niggas UFC, smoke tree on niggas, sizzle out your USB" while Phife Dawg jests "surge pricing on these Ubers, Imma get me a cab" and Jarobi is "imbibing on impeccable grass, I be in NYC waiting for that law to pass." Earlier in the track, Q-Tip gives a shout out to Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt, Joey Bada$$ and J.Cole, "Talk to Joey, Earl, Kendrick, and Cole, gatekeepers of flow, they are extensions of instinctual soul" rejecting the modern concept that hip-hop is dead and maintaining that the legacy of nineties continues to live on and progress through artists today.
The heartbreak of Phife’s passing is documented on the ode Lost Somebody. Soothed by another electric Q-Tip production, he confronts the tension between the pair in the past, "despite all the spats and shits cinematically documented, The one thing I appreciate, you and I, we never pretended, rhymes we would write it out, hard times fight it out, gave grace face to face, made it right, and now you riding out, out, out, out, damn." The hook is sublime, resonating behind Q-Tip and Jarobi’s lyrics and sung by a heartfelt Katia Cadet, it’s cut off abruptly to be replaced by a moment of silence and the raw whines of Jack White’s guitar.
In an interview following the release Jarobi stated, “he basically gave his life to make this album” and it shows, rather than an opportunity to earn a quick buck off the back of Phife’s death, this is a legitimate Tribe album and it sees the artists that built it produce some of their finest work. Most importantly, We Got It From Here remains consistent, progressive, meditative, and enlightening with every track and will undoubtedly stay timeless as one of the most conscious and forward-thinking hip-hop records of recent years, and a humble final bow-out from the Tribe family. On point all the time.
Words: Charlie Fyfe