Twenty years ago, New York hip-hop collective A Tribe called Quest debuted their 1996 record, “Beats, Rhymes and life” as number one on the billboard 200 chart.Two years later they dropped “The Love Movement”, and secluded themselves from the rest of the world of hip-hop. For almost an entire decade they solidified their role in the New York hip-hop scene. ATCQ were pioneers of the turning age, setting a tone for the closing chapter that was the twentieth century.
Twenty years after their last appearance on the billboard, they return with We got it from “Here…Thank You 4 Your service. .” Sitting quietly, observing the ever-changing world, watching at a distance. Seeing the civil struggles their country is facing, political turmoil and delusions disarray the hip-hop community, it was time for the tribe to break their silence. With a wordy vocabulary, threaded through the seams of near-flawless boom-beat production, the nostalgia doesn’t skip a beat. The abstract hip-hop artist Q-tip disassembles these quick percussions, and stuttering drums straight to the bare bone; only made possible by DJ and producer Ali Saheed Muhammad. Jarobi lays down the yard work whenever he decides to ever make an appearance. With the unfortunate passing of Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor, there was plenty of things to be said, plenty of emotions to go around.
This record stands around the one hour mark, compacting two-discs in one record; it’s definitely a solemn listen. The record opens up with a tight musical number of unity. The track “The Space Program”, gives a clear reminder that the band is picking up right where they left off in 98’. Even though faith had other plans, Phife Dawg held his own on the tracks he was a part of, delivering his grimy, ruthful flows and deliberately cornering the mix, until he gets off the mic. After a cute exert of a Willy Wonka sample, the record introduces the single of the record, “We the People”. This track choreographs a proper anti-establishment ballad, illustrating an outcry of civil obscenity. “All you black folks, you must go/all you Mexicans, you must go”, make up the hook of the track, demonstrating a view from the inside out of civil unrest. Phife Dawg compares the media as fog and smog as they give out “false narratives of Gods that came up against the odds.” A political driven track with tough bars to swallow showcases a far cry of a dismantled system laid out to suck the weak like leeches. The track “Solid Wall of Sound” revolves around a sample from Elton John’s classic hit “Benny and The Jets”. A unique twist to the instrumentation by DJ Ali, as featured guest Busta Rhymes tears down the wall of sound with quick, hard hitting jabs, left and right. A harsh ragged voice like chains clashing down a fence line. With a notorious relationship with the band, it only seems ethical to display Busta Rhyme’s lyrical talent on a number of the tracklist.
The song “Dis Generation”, in my opinion is one of the most lyrical empowering, and self-driven cuts off the album. Baited with a sample from Musical Youth , the quick jagged flows are on a new high, as the group collectively dissect the new hip hop scene spitting about vapor trails to DVRs’. The band goes as far as mentioning key figures in the modern rap community, “Talk to Joey, Earl, Kendrick, and Cole, gatekeepers of flow/They are extensions of instinctual soul.” They unwind the new generation with their timeless flows, never lost in translation. The track Melatonin showcases the smoothest grooves of the record, and a key favorite for some, especially with that beautiful ascending synth at the closure of the song.
The start of the second half of the record starts off going toe-to-toe with guest Consequence’s conversational flow. He gets cut short by Busta Rhyme’s gnarly voice and tone, ripping the beat straight off the hook. The second half of this record still conveys powerful medians used in the first half, but also in a way that isn’t as polished. The beats are more skeletal, and not as layered and melodic, breath of fresh mid-nineties air, especially on the songs “Black Spasmodic”, and the Killing Season. They are just doing what they know, and doing it well.
The song “Lost Somebody” is a beautiful love piece dedicated to the dearly departed Phife Dawg. “Yeah, Phife-for your life”, introduces the track, as Phife’s partner in crime Q-Tip illustrates a success story of being born in a torn world. Visualizing “Vietnam going wrong/heroin going strong”, and depicting internal battles between finding hope, and appreciating the times spent with each other. Q-Tips spits “Malik, I would treat you like little brother that would give you fits/ The one thing I appreciate, you and I/ Rhymes we would write it out/hard times fight it out.” A heart throbbing parting letter, that even Q-Tip, with all his talent and flow, struggles to captivate the relationship he had with Phife Dawg for all to understand.
The track “Conrad Tokyo” serves some of my favorite instrumentation into the mix, and the best feature, Kendrick Lamar. Q-tip starts off the track poking fun of “Trump and the SNL hilarity”, in moderation for “Troublesome times kid, no times for comedy.” Kendrick Lamar adds to the lyrical crescendo with bars stabbing our current political stand hold. “Every nation Obama nation/let the coroner in/crooked faces, red and blue laces for the color of men”, depicting the corruption the judicial system promises. Although this song is one of my favorites, I can’t seem to shake off the fact that Kendrick’s verse should’ve been more expansive. I’m sure he has plenty of say on that manner. The closing track “The Donald” is one last tribute to Phife Dawg, with a reggae inspired groove. The title “Donald” is a reference to “Don Juice” a nickname for Phife Dawg.
This record isn’t a groundbreaking record; this record does not reinvent the modern hip-hop wheel that’s been rotating for decades now. I wouldn’t go as far as calling this record comeback record ether. You see this record just proved as reminder of what a good quality hip hop album should sound like. The lyrical brain foods, and batches of instrumental ear candy, are components to what make A Tribe Called Quest album so unique, so bliss, merciful in content, distinct in subtleness. This record was a clear reminder of why this band will go down in history books, future hall of famers who paved the road for hundreds of musicians now and yet to come. Phife Dawg, a hip-hop legend forever cremated in the roots of a true rap pioneer, only to grow past the ground he lays in. This may be the last Tribe record we will ever received and for that we thank you. Thank you Q-tip, Ali, and Phife Dawg for delivering the world your brilliant talents, Thank you all..for your service..