FEATURE REVIEW: A Tribe Called Quest’s “We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service”

Our hip hop critics go b2b for a track by track analysis of this comeback LP, feat. Q-Tip, Jarobi White, the late Phife Dawg and very special guests.


Darcy MacDonald: In an uncertain world, these have been times of unexpected truths: a reality star President, a Cubs series win, Dave Chappelle on Saturday Night Live and a new A Tribe Called Quest record, We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service, released last Friday after a relatively short and well-guarded rollout.

Mr. Wavvy: Hold up, A Tribe Called Quest help Dave Chappelle deliver SNL’s best episode in years, along with dropping a stellar farewell album the day before…is America suddenly great again? Whatever the case may be, this was certainly an exciting week for Tribe fans, both old and new.

DM: Wavvy here and I elected to engage in an intergenerational b2b review, he being on the bright side of his 20s as I slip closer to the big 4-0. In short, I’ve been listening to Tribe since before he was born.

Our respective paths of rhythm

Mr.W: Technically, my earliest memories of the group stem back to Phife Dawg contributing to a song in The Rugrats Movie, in which he plays a rapping newborn. Other than that, I’ve always appreciated Q-Tip as a solo entity, but really only got into the group as a whole a few years ago, while working a summer job at a record store.

Given that Big Boi and Andre 3000 are my favourite rappers, it made sense that I would fall in love with the ones who most influenced them. A Tribe Called Quest paved the way for the weirdos, those who didn’t fit in with the mold of the genre. There is also something to say in how consistent they stayed. It’s fair to say that over their 25+ year career, Tribe did not put out one bad album, this new project included.

DM: I first remember hearing Q-Tip rap on De La Soul’s “Buddy,” which also featured Jungle Brothers. As I recall it was on one of the Rap Traxx cassette compilations that were critical to ’80s suburban kids hooked on hip hop.

When I hit high school I sort of started to fall out of interest with hip hop for a while, but my friends all loved Tribe and it was inevitable that I would eventually “get” that jazzy sway, and the potency of their message and delivery. I got to see them at Lollapalooza ’94, right off the release of Midnight Marauders, and it was at that point that I became an active ATCQ fan.

Now that you know where we’re coming from, here’s what we think of the new Tribe, track by track.

1) “The Space Program”

Mr. Wavvy: Those first keys played instantly bring back golden memories, reminiscent of Midnight Marauders favourite “Award Tour.” It’s unapologetically Tribe — black, funky and abstract — letting us know from the start that this is no half-assed goodbye. The family is really back together, and in full form at that. Perhaps the biggest highlight of this track is the return of Jarobi White, who comes back with a vengeance after a four-album absence from the group.

Darcy MacDonald: Phife and Tip kick it off in unison and commit to “make somethin’ happen.” Within 25 seconds, between their harmonized vocal intro and the jaunty little organ melody that begins the groove, you know exactly who you are listening to: it’s the Tribe, y’all.

Their return mandate, off the bat: “It’s time to go left and not right/Gotta get it together forever/Gotta get it together for brothers/Gotta get it together for sisters/for mothers and fathers and dead n****s”  Clearly there’s gonna be a ton to unpack on this record. From the jump, we have a callback to a classic Q-Tip/Beasties collab, as the late Phife unwittingly laments his own departure.

Tip’s first verse calls the court to order, and “sometimes Y” himself Jarobi comes in with a vengeance. When Tip comes back for a second go, the snare switches up, the mood swings and every sign of a new birth is on display and your shoulders begin to roll to receive it.

“Move on the stars,” the eventual vocal sample prays. The Quest continues.

2) “We the People”

Mr.W: I have mixed feelings about the mixing and effects on this one. To me, it seems as if some vocals are unleveled and distorted to add a rugged feel to Q-Tip and Phife Dawg’s gritty delivery, as if they were helming a megaphone. However, in many senses, I feel like this took away from their terrific verses. On its chorus, Tip takes the voice of what seems to be the new state of his homeland, crooning  “All you black folks, you must go. All you Mexicans, you must go.” It’s a heavy track with a message that resonates with conflicts Americans are facing, especially following the recent election. It’s a song that the world needs right now, and it feels right of the group to include it so early on in the album, and in their SNL set this past weekend.

DM: Track by track album production credits came out on Saturday, helpfully enough, as we worked on this review. Whereas I was several listens deep by then and already well enamoured with this track, a Tip/Phife jawn, I hadn’t clicked that its big bad break and gritty lo-fi guitar/bass line is a Sabbath sample. I’m a little disappointed with myself, honestly. Later that night, seeing and hearing it performed with Phife’s presence revered on SNL gave this number an additional edge of poignancy to me, as would their second set with Busta and Consequence later with “The Space Program.”

From a production standpoint, Tip’s high pitched, distorted-ish intro verse harkens back to early Tribe, but there’s a bit of a smoke and mirrors game going on in that Phife’s verse that follows — dope as it is in content and delivery — seems a little incomplete. But Tip executes a solid balance in making it all work at both ends, his second verse a chance to tie it all together on a couple of levels. And the hook makes instant rap history.

3) “Whateva Will Be”

DM: Mutty Ranks joins the party over a bangin’ riddim flipped from a Nairobi Sisters sample, and Tip, Jarobi and Consequence all get down. Instantly endearing, both as another exhibit of why we miss Phife and as an early transitional moment for the pace of the record.

I have always thought Midnight Marauders is the most perfectly sequenced record in hip hop history — like, the gold standard for how a rap album should transition from end to end — and that is one of the reasons it distinguishes itself not only within the Tribe catalogue, but as a certified GOAT-level conversation starter. Far be it for me to steer this review into that debate, but my point is that this joint sticks out for what it brings to the table after the solid leads it follows, with the promise that whatever will be, will be.

Mr. W: First of all, can we acknowledge how hilarious it is that Q-Tip raps, “VH1 has a show that you can waste your time with,” on “We the People,” and then features his cousin, Consequence, a rapper known in more recent years for his appearances on VH1’s hit reality series Love & Hip-Hop on the song directly after? In any case, it’s nice to see Cons involved with the album. He’s an integral part of Tribe’s history, having actually appeared on more songs than Jarobi, and always comes through with clever, effortlessly flowing verses, as can be seen on this track.

4) “Solid Walls of Sound”

Mr. W: The sample flip of Elton John’s “Bennie & the Jets” is brilliant. People grew to love Tribe on their debut album, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, with tracks like “Footprints” tackling Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” and of course the “Walk on the Wild Side” sample on “Can I Kick It?” When I first saw Elton listed as a feature on the album, I had mixed feelings, but this was done in such a respectful way. One can even argue that Q-Tip’s singing flows better than Elton on the outro!

My complaint here would be with Phife Dawg and Busta Rhymes’ fast-paced, Caribbean accented back-and-forth. Throughout their respective careers, especially Busta’s, these two techniques have served as strengths and weaknesses for the two emcees. Strengths, when they first started doing it, because it was so impressive and unheard of, but weaknesses because they both overused throughout their careers. It’s constant use of this that has led people to not care about whether or not Busta puts out another record.

DM: I get what Wavvy is saying for sure, but when I heard Elton was gonna be on here, I was just interested to see how it would stack up to his contribution to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, wherein Kanye changed the approach by which a vast array of guest collaborators can be employed most effectively: by committee rather than as individual artists. “All of the Lights” is one gem of a bloated, overdone tune, to put it another way.

I think this a cool fuckin’ tune but Elton’s vocal at the end is a toss-away. No disrespect to legends living or dead but Elton John sounds like the Family Guy impersonation of Robin Williams’ voice at this point.

Other than that, I don’t feel the same as Wavvy on Busta’s bit on here. It works for me. I think that the song put the parts of its whole together smartly, and the nod to upfront, all-in production that the title pays tribute to is well played. Jack White is hardly on my register here, that said.

5) Dis Generation

a-tribe-called-quest-lpMr. W: Something so noteworthy when discussing ATCQ’s legacy is recognizing who the group has influenced. While they haven’t necessarily been an inspiration to all hip hop artists, there is something to say about the ones they have. From OutKast to Kanye to Common, among others, it is certainly a quality over quantity situation when it comes to who Tribe has touched.

Given this, it’s nice to see the group acknowledge rap’s leaders of the new school, giving props to “gatekeepers of the flow” such as Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper and Earl Sweatshirt, on this passing of the torch record.

DM: A “Scenario” for 2016. Love the tradeoff from Phife’s bball bar to Tip’s Leia/Vader sex rhyme. Big tune, all love.

6) Kids…

Mr. W: Speaking of people ATCQ has influenced, how is this the first time Andre 3000 and Q-Tip jump on a track together? In what seems like two long-lost brothers finally discovering one another, the two complement each other with staccato-like flows and clever wordplay. However, out of the four mythical verses 3 Stacks has come out of hiding to record this year (Frank Ocean’s “Solo (Reprise)”, Travis Scott’s “The Ends”, and Divine Council’s “Decemba”), this one is by far the least interesting, which certainly says a lot about the caliber of a rapper like Andre.

DM: Title says it all. I don’t think a Tip/Andre collab could have worked out any other way than as a part of this moment in history.

7) Melatonin

Mr. W: Despite its name, this track is no snoozer, rather a smooth cut fittingly placed just before the album’s midway point. It doesn’t scream Tribe, but has something for everyone nonetheless. Its message, relatable to the younger fan’s pill populated diet (“Pop melatonin like they Swedish Fish”), and the older fans with a fixture for something soulful, which, in part, is thanks to Marsha Ambrosius Badu-esque hook delivery.

DM: This one brings it back to basics after the display of force on show from the first notes of the album. Q-Tip goes all the way in on every front to create a track that stands alongside “Sucka N****s” as one of his brightest solo stands within the context of a group LP.

8) Enough

DM: By contrast, this one is a little heavy-handed. It feels a little underdone and too on purpose. Some cool sways in the groove but this is the first song I could have done without. Props for the “Bonita” callback though.

Mr.W: With a new time in the Tribe member’s lives, it only makes sense for change in attitude. This is an updated version of an ATCQ love song. It’s less playful, more faithful, with the whole-heartedness that men their age should be displaying. Bonus points for using the same Rotary Connection sample originally found on their debut single “Bonita Applebum.”

9) Mobius

Mr.W: This track is where you can find the album’s greatest lyrical offerings. Honorary members Consequence and Busta Rhymes come through with that pure fire. For Cons, it’s a chance to prove exactly why he is one of hip hop’s most underrated songwriters, complementing grin-worthy punchlines with precise timing. For Busta, a veteran in the game, this is just another walk in the park, or perhaps a walk through the war zone as he spazzes out relentlessly once again.

DM: This motherfucker coulda been on the Roots’ Illadelph Halflife, in that almost every track on there is a deep cut with a dark side. Tip, Busta and Consequence all come with a vibe that recalls when all we needed was bars, breaks and basslines, and serves to bring Thank You back to Earth’s orbit before shuttling toward its final destination.

10) Black Spasmodic  

Mr.W: Beats, Rhymes and Life’s rapping trio reunite “1nce Again”. Imagine how different that album would have been if it had instrumental backing this positive? While the album is widely regarded as an important one for both starting the career of Consequence and skyrocketing the career of J Dilla (Jay Dee at the time) as a producer, more tracks set to a “Black Spasmodic”-style pace could have made for an interesting change.

DM: So this is probably my favourite song on the album, at least for now. Consequence is missing from the credits and he in on here over a simple yet rolling, head-bumping reggae beat from Tip, who also holds down a wicked flow on his part. But this is Phife’s song, Mutty Ranks in full form. This shit made me cry.

11) The Killing Season

DM: Considering appearances by Talib and Kanye, this song falls a little flat. The beat is pretty cool but it’s kinda sleepy on the whole. Not saying it’s a bad track but it’s among the album’s least memorable at any rate.

Mr. W: Kanye’s part seems pretty phoned-in. A longtime fan of Tribe and dear friend to Consequence, Kanye probably had a real feeling for this project. Nonetheless, he could’ve taken more time to work on his chorus. Otherwise, menacing verses from every rapper involved, Jarobi in particular spitting with the weight of the world on his shoulders (“Been on the wrong team so much, can’t recognize a win, seems like my only crime is having melanin”), along with a bassline that could be mistaken for one featured on The Low End Theory or Midnight Marauders.

Saturday Night Live - Season 42

A Tribe Called Quest on SNL, Nov. 12, 2015

12) Lost Somebody

DM: This song follows suit on the vibe but brings things back to life a little with an awesome laid-back piano line and a sweet vocal from Katia Cadet providing the backdrop to Tip and Jarobi’s touching, pensive memorial bars to their lost brother Phife Dawg. A worthy tribute and another potential tearjerker for the old school fans still shocked by his sudden death this year.

Mr.W: On one hand, it feels strange to have a tribute song to your group’s fallen member on an album that he is all over. Yet by itself “Lost Somebody” is a totally suitable homage to Phife Dawg’s legacy. I really wish Ali Shaheed Muhammed had rapped on this album – this would have been such a good song for him to get busy on.

13) Movin’ Backwards

Mr.W: This is undoubtably a standout track on the album, but perhaps not for the reasons one would expect. Although Q-Tip and Jarobi hold their weight, it is really Anderson .Paak who leads on the song. Bringing his soothing West Coast flavours to the table, this could have easily been something left on the cutting room floor from his incredible Malibu album from earlier this year.

Also, can we acknowledge how .Paak is asserting himself as hip hop’s “Angel of Death”? First Dr. Dre’s Compton and now We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service, it seems as if every year he’ll pop up and astound on some rap legends’ monumental final offering. Be cautious next time you’re looking at your favourite ol’ head’s tracklisting…beware of the .Paak-Man!

DM: Anderson .Paak being – for me, anyways –  the most interesting artist to emerge in a big way in 2016, I was pretty excited to hear news of this collab as album details began to emerge. “Movin’ Backwards” definitely delivers on what it should be. Granted it feels more like a Tip/.Paak collab than a true-blue Tribe jawn, but it still sticks out as yet another triumph for one of today’s leaders of the new school. It just doesn’t stand out as something .Paak couldn’t have done all by himself.

14) Conrad Tokyo

Mr.W: I worry that Kendrick is beginning to feel too comfortable with himself. His familiar approach to verses in both content and articulation is becoming more like sitting on a seat made of nails rather than having one nail pierce your arse. In any case, the verse is lyrically potent, yet seems a little formulaic when compared to K-Dot’s other recent verses, especially his features.

Other than that, solid opening verse from Phife. I imagine this was recorded earlier on in the album’s creation process given his reference to Trump’s Nov. 2015 Saturday Night Live appearance (the album began recording that same month).

DM: To quote an old Tip throwaway, “I dunno, man.” This one feels a little forced. Phife’s vocal was clearly not finished and the production tricks used to mask it don’t manage all the way. Keeping guest MC Kendrick Lamar’s vocal low in the mix kind of takes away from what could otherwise have been a classic collaboration. I wish they could have found another way to incorporate K-Dot. “Conrad Tokyo” would not be out of place on the extended version of the The Love Movement among the bonus tracks, and that isn’t a compliment, necessarily. The beat is cool, but a little repetitive in that there have already been a couple of slower numbers that follow the same pattern of BPMs and piano parts.

The Phife SNL/Trump line is just straight spooky, though.

15) Ego

Mr. W:  Without question the song on the album that most encapsulates the essence of A Tribe Called Quest. Positive, bouncy, and different. The bass (played by Q-Tip and Louis Cato) is super playful on this one, another frequently used Tribe technique that fans have grown to love. Bonus points for Q-Tip rapping the word “Wavvy”, ha!

DM: Now we’re talkin’! A dark-ish yet rolling beat, Tip on his lyrical podium: this is the marauder you’re looking for.

16) The Donald

Mr.W: Deceiving title, glad it was about Phife Dawg’s lesser-known “Don Juice” nickname, as opposed to the recent President-elect. This is such an appropriate way to say goodbye to Phife: A song centred around the Five-Foot Assassin’s braggadocious verse, backed by an old school-sounding, jazzy beat. It is also the best use of Jack White’s guitar playing (a solo at the end), who at other times on the album played as if he could have easily been mistaken for Q-Tip or Andre 3000’s skillset.

DM: I agree with Wavvy on the Jack White comment — notice I’ve only mentioned him once, to say I hardly noticed his contribution to “Solid Wall of Sound,” and yet he appears on several tracks.

I mean, what can I say? The last track of a Tribe comeback no one saw coming, under the least likely circumstances. It’s a great way to end the party, to be sure. Rest in peace, Phife Diggy.


DM: The idea of A Tribe Called Quest getting back together has long been hip hop’s “Cubs win the series” dream and in the wake of Phife’s passing of course no one would have thought it would ever actually happen, unlikely as it was to begin with.

To that end, many old guard Tribe fans never wanted the many-times rumoured reunion to happen, and I will admit that the adage “leave the past alone” holds water in a vast majority of other comeback-type projects, but every rule has an exception, and …Thank You 4 Your Service is it.

It may sound like I knocked a few tracks and your opinion may well be different from mine or Wavvy’s, but even with its shortcomings, Thank You never falls off. All of its parts create a whole that indisputably rings out A Tribe Called Quest.

Mr.W: I have mixed feelings about the star-studded features on the album. None were necessarily bad (with the exception of Kanye), but it was never really a Tribe practice to reach outside the family for help. If you’re trying to remind the world exactly why they love ATCQ one last time, why not do it in a way that is true to how they’ve been for the past 26 years?

In comparison to their last album, The Love Movement, this felt less natural. Between the use of guests at times, over-dramatization and the pressure of closing out their iconic legacy, there are times when I wonder if they should have bothered making such a project in the first place.

However, at the end of the day, all of the music here is of a high merit. There is not one bad song on this carefully crafted project, an attribute which also works towards its flaws. Although uncomfortable on both an emotional and executional way at times, this is a worthy farewell to one of hip hop’s most beloved groups, and closure to the timeless career of Phife. ■