For fans of A Tribe Called Quest, this is a day that none of us thought would ever come. Five years ago, the brilliantly produced Michael Rapaport documentary, “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest”, keyed in on the deep divide between Phife Dawg and Q-Tip – a rift that had effectively kept one of hip hop’s most powerful and influential acts at a stalemate for well over a decade.
Rumors of reconciliation in the years that followed the documentary’s release helped many breathe a sigh of relief and make peace before the tragic news of Phife Dawg’s passing in March of this year. What none of us knew is that the alleged reconciliation had led the duo back into the studio with Jarobi White and Ali Shaheed Muhammad to record an album 18 years in the making. The resulting product is damn near prophetic.
Released on the same week as the election of one of the most despicable presidential candidates in recent history, We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service sounds as if it were written during Wednesday morning’s aftermath. It’s an album that reflects the quintessential sounds that defined hip hop’s golden age, laced with a timeless message that feels explicitly powerful at this moment in time.
“Space Program” sets the tone for the two-part, politically driven affair, cleverly keying in on liberal white America’s threats to flee the country during the song’s chorus, reminding us that many are, quite frankly, stuck here. We Got it From Here immediately hits its stride on “We the People…”, a defiant track that finds Tip and Phife both coming correct on a throwback track with a buzzing bass line. “We don’t believe you, cuz we the people / Are still here in the rear, ayo, we don’t need you”, Q-Tip spits to open the track. Later, his words on the song’s chorus hang painfully poignant:
“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”
Track after track, Tribe pounds a resounding gong against injustices faced by black America, enlisting help from a variety of fellow truth-speakers. Talib Kweli joins in on “Killing Season”, juxtaposing military slaughter with continued police brutality cases and the murder of black leaders: “It’s war and we fighting for inches and millimeters/ They try to stall the progress by killing off all the leaders/ If we don’t give them martyrs no more, they can’t defeat us”.
In addition to Kweli, We Got it From Here features some of hip hop’s finest, both past and present. Appearances include Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Consequence, Busta Rhymes, André 3000, Anderson Paak, and even contributions from Elton John and Jack White. For as much as the album is a collective rallying cry, it’s impossible to ignore the record’s dual purpose as a celebration of Phife Dawg.
On “Lost Somebody”, Q-Tip and Jarobi share heartfelt lyrics, reflecting on past trials but ultimately confessing their brotherly love to Phife. Q-Tip spits, “Malik, I would treat you like little brother that would give you fits / Sometimes overbearing though I thought it was for your benefit” with Jarobi later dropping the line, “Never thought that I would be ever writing this song / Hold friends tight, never know when those people are gone”.
In the months leading up to his passing, it’s clear that Phife Dawg had little time for sentimentality. Most of his verses are laser-focused on the task at hand, taking aim at everything from Donald Trump to the media outlets that made room for such a political figure. Yet, ever the showman, Phife still finds opportunities to flash his signature bravado, as on “Black Spasmodic”: “I take zero for granted, I honors my gift / Champion pen game, plus I’m freestyle equipped”.
We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service truly feels like a gift. The fingerprints of all four members are clearly felt and each moment of the album is handled with care. Samples are expertly placed by Tip, creating the relaxed vibe of past Tribe albums with the ability to blast through the speakers when necessary to compliment a particular bar or verse. The album is, in some ways, a farewell, yet feels nothing like it. We Got it From Here is purposeful and focused from front to back.
I’ll freely admit my struggle to stay objective with this release. A Tribe Called Quest was my first true musical love – a group I discovered in middle school that would go on to shape my tastes and serve as a touchstone for my youth and the dawning of my own personal worldviews and perspectives. Along with many others, I also find myself disgusted by the outcome of the recent presidential election, aghast at the amount of hate that plagues our country.
For these, and so many more reasons, We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service will land as one of my favorite releases of the year. For fans of hip hop, it’s an album that embodies the heart of the genre. These are protest songs. Yet even in the midst of frustration and righteous anger, hope still bleeds through.
R.I.P. Phife Dawg – you’ll be missed.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.