We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
Epic Records Group
All at once the new (“comeback” ) record from A Tribe Called Quest, their first in 18 years is a tribute to the spirit of the group and a continuation; it’s also a tribute to fallen soldier, Phife Dawg, while celebrating him in the context of the group…the album was completed after his death but does include some of his final verses.
We straight away hear the political angle from Tribe – something that was always there in their music. Opener, The Space Program, all but bounds from the speakers to the rallying cry, “It’s time to go left and not right/Gotta get it together forever”, on the charge continues, calling to get it together “for brothers/Gotta get it together for sisters”. The album closes, after a thrilling 61 minutes sprawled across two discs, with a song called The Donald. Phife gets to spit his anger about the now President-Elect fascist clown.
But it’s not all anger in a doom and gloom sense – as was always the case with Tribe there’s hilarity, there’s the near-sophomoric alongside the sophisticated and here we have guest raps too from the likes of Andre3000, Talib Kweli and Kendrick Lamar.
Lyrically tight, the fast, furious, wondrous flow of Q-Tip still dazzles, still sucks you in and pulls you along and on We The People, the anthemic feel continues, a huge drum-beat the backdrop to a siren’s rallying cry as Tip sounds off about gentrification and other frustrations.
The huge personality of Q-Tip is the driving force of this project though – in that we hear his unique musical worlds; so much of We Got It From Here, as much as it includes and pays tribute to Phife and reintroduces the wonderful rotating coast of the group, feels like it could have been the new Q-Tip album, feels like it takes its beats, ideas and flow from previous Q-Tip solo albums.
That means we start strong – The Space Program, We The People and Whateva Will Be all instant classics. Melatonin too, with its angular guitar riff and brittle drum beat making the most unlikely but powerful hook and groove.
Black Spasmodic is another instant classic, that mystical, crucial summertime groove of A Tribe Called Quest with the tightly stacked raps that influenced Blackalicious, J5 and the early Black Eyed Peas among many others.
It would be understandable if this just worked as tribute to Phife, it would not only be valid but actually thrilling. But so much of We Get it From Here feels like both the start of something new and the continuation of that incredible 8-year, 5-album run across the 1990s.
Simply put, it shouldn’t be this good. One of the records of the year arrived late in the piece from a group hobbled by what seemed interminable bickering (cf: 2011’s documentary).
But they’re back. They’ve laid out Phife’s final rhymes, paid tribute to him too and in paying tribute to their mercurial sound – all at once thoughtful (The Killing Season) and kinda silly (Kids…) we’re reminded of a great group from the past and a new prospect for the future.
If this record could achieve anything else – and by just existing it’s done more than enough – it would be as the torch-lighting touchstone for the remaining two-thirds of the Beastie Boys to reconnect musically, to reconvene, to release the results.