A Tribe Called Quest returns with vigor

Although departing from its old sound, A Tribe Called Quest’s new album is still socially conscious. Photo courtesy of Stereogum.
Although departing from its old sound, A Tribe Called Quest’s new album is still socially conscious. Photo courtesy of Stereogum.

Many people know A Tribe Called Quest for its hit, “Can I Kick It?,” a staple of nineties hip-hop that features a foot-tapping rhythm and warm guitar tones that group members Q-Tip and Phife Dawg rap over. Although Tribe’s new album, We got it from Here … Thank You 4 Your service, its first in 18 years, does not feature the same laid-back atmosphere and message, its thematic relevance as well as its musical excellence establish it as an important album in our current musical landscape.

Tribe started recording hip-hop in Queens, N.Y., with childhood friends Phife Dawg and Q-Tip, and artists Jarobi White and Ali Shaheed Muhammad. The group rose to fame in a crescendo of musical brilliance, establishing themselves at the frontier of East Coast hip-hop and ingraining themselves into the culture of the genre. We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service started as a collaborative project between Tribe members Phife Dawg and Q-Tip, and was completed after Phife’s death due to complications from  diabetes in March.

Although the group produced the album 18 years after its last, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service has the same Afrocentrism and social consciousness that is so prevalent in its older works.

Even if one disregards the political messages in We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service, the album is still brilliant. The album showcases all four core group members and features frequent contributors Consequence and Busta Rhymes. Listeners familiar with Tribe’s older music will find its new album nostalgic, almost as if nothing has changed. Tribe, however, also collaborated with more current artists. We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service features verses by Kendrick Lamar and Anderson Paak, and riffs from guitarist Jack White. Among other artists featured are Elton John and André 3000.

Apart from its obvious political tones, the album is heavily inspired by core member Phife Dawg’s death — songs like “Lost Somebody” are unapologetic in their commemoration to the founding member, and even the final track on the album, “The Donald,” is an homage to Phife’s musical talent. Heavily inspired by the grief brought about by Phife Dawg’s death, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service is as much a commentary on the social and political atmosphere of these times as it is a memorial to one of A Tribe Called Quest’s core group members.

As much as it is a tribute to Phife, however, the album also comments on the political and social undercurrents of these modern times, which are especially prevalent in the wake of the presidential election. The album itself is a piece of protest and complaint, both a call for justice and change. “The Space Program,” the album’s first track,  explores the oppression of black communities.

The second track, ‘We the People….,’ is even more direct in addressing the way racism, sexism, classism, and countless other isms are prevalent in modern American society.

Q-Tip raps, “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.”

Other topics touched upon in the album are police violence and the regression of society from a place of liberal and inclusive thought to one marked by ignorance.

Although it does a thorough and complete job in pointing out the ugliest parts of society, A Tribe Called Quest never fails to turn their message into one of positivity and hope, calling on viewers to look ahead to the future, and to make a change for what they believe is right. We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service provides musical optimism that not only lets you close your eyes and hide behind its tranquil rhythms, but also arms you with the hope and motivation to make a change in the world.