By Brian Ives
Back in August, Epic Records president L.A. Reid told the Rap Radar podcast (part of CBS Radio’s Play.It podcast network) that A Tribe Called Quest was was finishing a new album that they started before Phife Dawg passed away, back in March. The news was greeted by true hip-hop fans with jubilation and curiosity. What would the album sound like?
This week, we found out, as A Tribe Called Quest unleashed the epic double album, We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service on Friday November 11. Here’s our favorite tracks from the album (and it was very difficult to pick just five).
“The Space Program” – Let’s be clear: Q-Tip has done a lot of cool solo albums in the years since Tribe split up. But there’s nothing like hearing him going back and forth with Phife, period. And the two of them hadn’t lost their chemistry. They definitely had the state of the world, and the then-upcoming election on their mind: “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/For non-conformists, one hitter quitters.” The song ends on a haunting note, using the late Gene Wilder’s lines from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: “The danger must be growing/For the rowers keep on rowing/And they’re certainly not showing/Any signs that they are slowing!” An ominous song, particularly coming just days after the election.
“We the People…” – It’s first single from the album, and has a tense and urgent feel, helped by a subtle sample of Black Sabbath’s “Behind the Wall of Sleep.” (A shout out here to Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad for their tight production throughout the album.) This song is also about the then-looming election: “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.” The song has another of Phife’s great sports lyrics, this one seemingly aimed at the music industry: “You bastards overlooking street art/Better yet, street smarts but you keep us off the charts/So motherf— your numbers and your statistics/F— y’all know about true competition?/That’s like a AL pitcher on deck talking about he hitting!”
“Solid Wall of Sound” – Built around a sample of Elton John’s funkiest song, “Bennie and the Jets,” and featuring frequent Tribe collaborator Busta Rhymes, who goes full dancehall on this one. Sir Elton makes a cameo at the end of the song, singing new lyrics over his “Bennie” chords.
“Dis Generation” – It would be the easiest thing in the world for Tribe to return with a “Get off my lawn!” album, deriding the state of hip-hop in 2016. Instead they give props to some of the MCs who may have held their own if they had been around during the Golden Era. “Talk to Joey, Earl, Kendrick, and Cole,” Q-Tip spits, referring to Joey Bada$$, Earl Sweatshirt, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. “Gatekeepers of flow/They are extensions of instinctual soul/It’s the highest in commodity grade/And you could get it today!”
“Conrad Tokyo” – This song sees Tribe collaborating with one of the aforementioned “Gatekeepers of flow,” namely Kendrick Lamar. Kendrick spits, “Toleration for devastation, got a hunger for sin/Every nation Obama nation, let the coroner in/Crooked faces, red and blue laces for the color of men/Just embrace it and die alone, song of Revelation,” echoing the sense of dread that goes through the album. But it’s Phife’s verse that’s the most haunting: “Trump and SNL hilarity/Troublesome times kid, no times for comedy/Blood clot, you doing/Bulls— you spewing/As if this country ain’t already ruined/In lieu of these mumbling, fumbling, swearing/They’re the greatest/Online they debate us, if we different, then we’re haters.”