18 years! 18 years! Seemed like a lifetime to fans and now that it’s finally here. . .
At their inception, A Tribe Called Quest trail-blazed a lane for alternative hip hop by leaning heavily on an infusion of afro-centric consciousness and jazz elements in a genre that, at the time, was most accustomed to formulaic break beats. You won’t get far into their catalogue before you hear the jazz influence. You’d reach a disconnect if you tried to talk about bridging styles across time periods in hip hop, but overlooked a young Q-tip’s influence on Jay Dee (The Ummah) at the outset of his career. Tribe’s run in the 90’s was sublime, leaving a lasting legacy off that decade alone. In 1998 A Tribe Called Quest announced that ‘The Love Movement,’ would be their last album. Fast forward 18 years…
Hip hop has reached it’s middle age, a phase that has proven to be somewhat difficult. Get off my lawn MCs angrily shaking their fist at the state of the game, at the radio, at the blogs, at anyone who will entertain it. Until recently, the genre simply hadn’t been around long enough to have a divide between “old heads” and kids; the old heads had always been the kids. Early on, the kids found new ways to throw jazz in the mix and it added on to the foundation of the pioneers. The kids brought shiny suits and bling to the party jams but balanced it with consciousness on the introspective tunes. And so it goes; the golden age faded and the kids seemingly hold vibe and style prominent over substance and balance…old head. You wake up one Sunday morning and find the allure of the club dull…old head. You start wondering if the vices you always enjoyed without a second thought aren’t addictions…old head. Phife Dawg passed this year, the kids aren’t kids anymore.
Enter We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, ATCQ’s final record in which all 4 original members reunited for their swan song. An album that uses building blocks of the past for the stepping stones to the future; it is plural in the topics spanned yet singular in the maturity they are approached with. It extends a hand back to a generation who may feel stuck in a past era while simultaneously recognizing the changing of the guard and encouraging the leaders of that new guard. It feels like the long overdue state of the union address from hip hop’s level-headed elder statesmen, an address the culture has probably needed for years now. Balancing such a forward looking nostalgia required wisdom I don’t think their youth could have afforded them; in order to fill in the last side of the sphere to bring everything full circle, moving hip hop forward as a united culture and bridge the growing gap between generations, this recorded required the very thing that has become a wedge in the genre, time.
Far from a rehashing of their earlier work, the new record grabs just enough familiarity to bring the old guard along without being stale. The innocence and wonder of “Bonita Applebum” and “Electric Relaxation” grew into “Enough!!,” a record that is more reflective, honest and insightful about romance. “Movin Backwards” opens with Jarobi rhyming, “I hope my legendary style of rap lives on…don’t be no backwards ass n*gga,” and ends with Anderson. Paak singing “I refuse to be stuck right here…I don’t want to move backwards…Can somebody just give me direction?” A XXL 2016 Freshman fitting seamlessly on a record about progression with golden age icons, it fits perfectly. “Kids” featuring Andre 3000, is a self aware and honest admission that elders who act off put by the youth, were once young too. This is what the record does over and over in so many different ways, both subtle and obvious.
More than just a stop gap for a genre in transition; the record embraces the transition (the genre’s and their own). Keeping an eye ever fixed on modern social conditions, ATCQ takes the transition by the hand and gives it proper orientation by using knowledge of the past and awareness of the present, to chart the future. By tackling timely issues that have spanned generations, such as addiction on “Melatonin“(Q-tip mentions Phife’s addiction to sugar, his own past addiction to sex, references to the 80’s crack era), institutional racism on “The Killing Season,” and intolerance on “We The People…“, the crew uses shared commonalities as another umbrella to bring everyone forward, together. ‘We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service,’ also keeps the memory, love and legacy of Phife Dawg at the center. “Lost Somebody,” is a gut punch of song, a sort of poignant eulogy by Q-tip and Jarobi, recollecting on stories of their late group mate.
The record features Busta Rhymes, Consequence, Andre 3000, Kanye West, Anderson .Paak, Kendrick Lamar, Talib Kweli, Elton John and Jack White. Q-Tip handled a majority of the production as the entire record was recorded in his New Jersey home studio AbLab. Phife’s legacy lives forever as will ATCQ’s and in this moment in time, I feel like hip hop just might be okay after all. ATCQ, we sincerely Thank You For Your Service.