2016 has been a relentless year. We’ve lost many in its wake. One of those lost was Phife Dawg, a main component of seminal ‘90s hip hop group A Tribe Called Quest passed away this March from complications of diabetes at only 45. The group hadn’t been active for some time; their last record was “The Love Movement” in 1998. But this Fall it was announced the group had a final album ready, recorded before Phife’s passing. The result is “We Got it From Here… Thank U 4 Your Service” an album that miraculously accomplishes so much on so many levels.
A lot could have gone wrong here: Phife’s absence could make it seem less like a Tribe album, and more like a Q-Tip solo, the group could have relied on nostalgia to push new music, or it could have just been straight uninspired. None of these ever come into play. The record doesn’t necessarily sound modern in a production sense, the classic Tribe Called Quest flavor is always there, but it’s darker than it’s ever been, and more nuanced. Gone are the joyful tinges of “Can I kick it?” replaced with a more somber, denser sound. Phife Dawg may no longer be with us, but his presence is felt throughout, whether it be a recorded verse or a poignant tribute by his mates, such as on “Lost Somebody”. The sense of loss permeates much of this record.
When Q-Tip, Jarobi White, and Ali Shaheed Muhammed with the help of frequent collaborator Busta Rhymes (who all still sound great by the way), aren’t outright mourning the loss of their friend, the record is surprisingly conscious and politically charged. Tracks like “We The People” and “Dis Generation” are impressively dense and relevant to our current uneasy political climate. The features here as well, including Kendrick Lamar, Anderson Paak, and Andre 3000, are excellent as well, adding a surreal sense that the tribe is passing the torch to the newer generation.
There could have been many outcomes with the release of this record, but everything falls into place. It never feels forced or dated, is both classic and relevant, functions as a fitting farewell, and is a downright joy to listen to. Thanks for your service, Tribe!