Phife Dawg's loss doesn't hang over the proceedings as much as his presence energizes it.



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Was it all good just a month ago? When ol' boy was still a joke to most of y'all and, more than anything, everybody just wanted it all to be over? Far, far better days.

It was only a month ago, though, that Q-Tip posted a note, handwritten in marker, to officially announce that A Tribe Called Quest were coming out with a new album—after a spate of rumors from André 3000 and LA Reid—and this after a break long enough that, if it had been a person, they'd be old enough to vote (and be heartbroken afterward).

And it might be total irresponsible bullshit, this idea that oh well, at least terrible times provoke great art, but this unexpected reunion of one of the genre's most beloved and influential crews came not just right on time, but with a timing eerie enough to underline how necessary it is right now.

"It's time to go left and not right," rap Kamal and Malik in unison on opener "The Space Program": "Gotta get it together forever, gotta get it together for brothers, gotta get it together for sisters, for mothers and fathers and dead niggas." The song's chorus grounds those lofty dreams of escape: "It ain't a space program for niggas. Yeah, you stuck here, nigga."

If you're expecting a seamless continuation from 1998's The Love Movement, you're bound to be shocked right off the bat. Though We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service exemplifies Tribe's signature warmth, clarity, and sense of space, sonically this album may have more in common with the futuristic, crunchy digital slap of De La Soul's Art Official Intelligence series (not to mention a clutch of Tribe's stylistic children) than it necessarily does the last two Tribe LPs.

While Beats, Rhymes, and Life and The Love Movement were consistent, they were aesthetically subdued, low-key—all filtered bass lines and submerged mellow thump. We Got It from Here is the most confident-sounding Tribe outing since Midnight Marauders (1993), whether it's in the lyrics or the boldness of flipping an Elton John classic ("Benny and the Jets") into the proggy, gorgeous "Solid Wall of Sound." This direction no doubt owes to We Got It from Here being wholly produced and mixed by Q-Tip, sans Ali Shaheed Muhammad, whose name is absent from the credits—Tribe's silent partner was busy out West working on the Luke Cage score with Adrian Younge.

Even with Muhammad gone, a giddy family-reunion vibe suffuses the whole album, with the lyrical core—Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and "the sometimes Y" Jarobi White (heard more on this record than ever in Tribe's history)—plus their crew cousins Consequence and Busta Rhymes (at his best whether precisely in control or maniacally unhinged). Brief glimpses of Kendrick Lamar, Anderson Paak, Kanye West, Jack White, 3 Stacks, and Elton John blend into the sound with not a seam showing.

There's no way around it, though: Things have gotten even worse since the Giuliani era when NYPD would merely "interrupt ya cipher and crush ya blunt." And 2016 finds Tribe at their most pointed politically, particularly on "We the People." As Phife skewers "false narratives of guys that came up against the odds," Tip ironically sings to Black folks, Mexicans, and poor folks that they "must go"—and to Muslims and gays, "boy, we hate your ways."

This album, recorded before the election, perfectly captures the tenor of Trump's America—illustrating that if you're only now getting mad, you haven't been listening, and for quite some time. It's perfect that album closer "The Donald" doesn't waste a word on our new, cowardly führer. It's a solo showcase for "Don Juice," aka Malik Taylor, the Tribe's dearly departed brother Phife Dawg, who died of complications from diabetes during the project's recording.

Phife's loss doesn't hang over the proceedings as much as his presence energizes it, brings it all together. The rift between him and Tip had hung over A Tribe Called Quest's legacy for a generation, a broken note for one of the greatest runs in hiphop to end on. That the bitter feud that marred a brotherhood that itself inspired a generation of hiphop genius—just ask André and Kanye—could be healed in such an unexpectedly brilliant display, far beyond anybody's expectations, is the most revolutionary thing about Tribe's glorious, closure-giving finale. This is the real meaning of We Got It from Here. recommended