Hip-hop legends A Tribe Called Quest pass the torch


Art by Eunbee Lee

Few have shaped the current hip hop landscape as much as A Tribe Called Quest. Consisting of Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Jarobi White and the late Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor, the band’s old-school hip-hop sound has influenced modern hip-hop artists such as Chance the Rapper, Kanye West and Andre 3000 of OutKast (all of whom contributed to making the new record). Although the group had not released an album since 1998’s “Love Movement,” rumors of a new Tribe release had been circulating for years leading up to this album. Unlike the vast majority of comeback albums, the new “We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service” brings Tribe back to its roots without relying on nostalgia to create a riveting hour-long journey concerning racial issues, the loss of a loved one and a sobering look at the current political landscape.

Tribe’s music has always been both sonically and thematically progressive, creating tracks that are captivating as one is pulled in by the groovy and sometimes purposefully disorienting background as Q-Tip’s sharp flows punch out with refreshing takes on classical hip-hop themes: the state of urban life and critical views on political figures and policies. Both of these recur throughout “We got it from Here,” especially in “We The People…”, the most politically charged song in the record, with a chorus calling for equal treatment of black, Hispanic, poor, Muslim and gay people. The opening track, “The Space Program,” gives the record a running start as it calls attention to the cycle of poverty in urban black communities, even wittily claiming that “there ain’t a space program” for black people. Tribe even takes this platform to criticize themselves as they contrast the poverty of many African-American communities to the celebrity of themselves and their fellow hip-hop artists.

Despite the almost two decades that have passed since their last album, Tribe has not lost an ounce of their swagger as Q-Tip and Phife Dawg come off as nothing less than confident, aggressive and, at points, cocky. The group also shows no weak points in terms of instrumental ability; “Movin Backwards” may be the grooviest song of the year with it’s dancing bass riff and a soulful chorus by Anderson .Paak. In typical Tribe fashion, there is no single style that covers the record. Song structure ranges from the melodious “Solid Wall of Sound” to the purposefully disorienting “Black Spasmodic.”

Along with the record’s political backdrop, Tribe finds themselves getting more somber towards the latter half of the record. Phife Dawg, whose verses were recorded before his death, passed away 8 months before the album’s completion and is given a fitting tribute by the remaining members of Tribe. “Lost Somebody” is a surprisingly emotional track for Tribe that calls Phife out by name, and “The Donald,” surprisingly not a song about another currently relevant Donald, finishes the record by allowing Phife Dawg to perform his very last song with all the swagger and flow that defined his career.

A Tribe Called Quest is likely to never release another album again, but their influence will remain in hip-hop for years to come as artists like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole and Joey Bada$$ carry on their innovative, politically aware approach to rap music. Tribe has left the music scene with a final record that carries on the torch to future generations as if they are imagining these young artists saying “We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service.”