The last time A Tribe Called Quest released an album was 18 years ago, when I was just learning to crawl. Now, they have released their much anticipated sixth and final album, We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service. The quartet consisting of Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White began work on the album earlier this year in secret after Q-tip and Phife repaired long standing damage to their relationship. During the production of the album, Phife Dawg lost his battle with diabetes at age 45 following ongoing health issues. Although the album was not finished until after his death, his influence remains a guiding force and is still felt throughout the release from his verses to the album’s name itself. In an interview with the New York Times, Q-Tip admits he does not know the significance behind the title of the album, explaining “We’re just going with it because [Phife] liked it.”
The four members of A Tribe Called Quest aren’t the only ones who left their marks on the album. We Got It From Here… contains a ridiculous number of features from the likes of Kanye West, Jack White, Kendrick Lamar, Elton John, André 300 and Anderson .Paak that serve to give the album a varied and textured sound. “Solid Walls of Sound” samples Elton John’s classic “Benny and the Jets” for an instantly recognizable hook and ends with an original Elton John verse created just for the song. Anderson .Paak stands out on “Movin Backwards,” giving the song a warmer soul feel than the rest of the album. In contrast, the very next song, “Conrad Tokyo,” feels much more urgent and serious; the only emotions on this track are frustration and anger. Kendrick Lamar’s guest verse is another standout, but in a different way than .Paak’s verse. While .Paak humanizes the album, Lamar’s presents a cold and unforgiving glimpse of current issues.
Never one to shy away from serious topics, A Tribe Called Quest does not mince words on We Got It From Here… . Q-Tip’s first line in “The Space Program,” the first song on the album, sets the expectations for the rest of the album, declaring his political viewpoint with “It’s time to go left and not right,” which is repeated throughout the song. Despite the fact that this album was finished before Donald Trump became the president-elect, it is hard to see the album as anything but a reaction to Trump’s platform and victory in the election. Tribe seemingly predicted the current political climate by tackling issues that have been bubbling under the surface for the past year but are now in the spotlight. “The Space Program” calls for revolution, saying “For non-conformists, one hitter quitters/For Tyson types and Che figures/Let’s get it together…” However, this track is far from the only critical examination of modern politics.
The most powerful track, “We the people…,” attacks alt-right rhetoric in the verses and uses the chorus to verbalize the elitist subtext in Trump’s campaign, saying “All you Black folks, you must go/All you Mexicans, you must go/And all you poor folks, you must go/Muslims and gays, boy, we hate your ways/So all you bad folks, you must go.” Tribe exposes the truth behind the attitudes of many who deny the basic principles of equality. The track attacks the media for perpetuating stereotypes and creating false labels. Over the course of this album, A Tribe Called Quest addresses racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia throughout the album with themes of unity and resilience, “Dreaming of a world that’s equal for women with no division”. Other tracks reference Malcolm X’s protest efforts and the ongoing struggle of police brutality.
Contrary to what you might expect, the final song on the album, “The Donald,” is completely unrelated to the political messages found on so many of the other tracks. “The Donald” is a tribute to the late Phife Dawg, who had the nickname “Don Juice.” The song highlights the best of Phife’s qualities and memorializes him by doing what he did best. Not every song on the album is a political statement, but every song has substance. Tribe addresses addiction on “Melatonin” and a refreshingly authentic look at careful balance between maintaining relationships while working in the music business on “Enough!!” The album is full of meaning and provides insight into a number of perspectives on relevant issues today. We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service is a phenomenal album and a rich expansion to A Tribe Called Quest’s legacy. It is a fitting send off for Phife Dawg and even more so a fitting end to an act that has had such an influence on rap in the past.
Ryan Slama is a freshman in the College of Engineering. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.