By Thomas Lange, Contributing Writer
A whopping 18 years after their previous project, legendary rap crew A Tribe Called Quest is back with what was confirmed to be their final album, “We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service.” The cryptic album title comes from Tribe MC Phife Dawg, who, despite his untimely passing, is thankfully present throughout the majority of the album. With an 18-year gap in between projects, the success of this album was somewhat up in the air. Well, let this review be an indicator: Tribe’s still got it. While this album is by no means perfect, it is a fitting testament to the legacy of one of music’s most iconic groups, and to the life of Phife Dawg.
“Thank You 4 Your Service” combines many of the things that made the Tribe great: their willingness to experiment, their social and political consciousness (an area this album excels in), diverse production, excellent chemistry and killer flow. And yet, at the same time, it is clear that ATCQ has evolved from their somewhat simplistic sound of the ‘90s (disclaimer: simple does not mean bad). This new production steps away from that approach, and instead, for the most part, favors a more complex, experimental and at times overpowering sound.
Tribe’s vocal skill has evolved markedly as well, unsurprising considering the group has had almost 30 years to constantly improve their craft. One of the most obvious examples of this is in the cadence of the rapping, which perhaps comes as a by-product of the more complex production on this album. In the past, Tribe was known for their again, somewhat simple (not bad), methodical, on-beat rapping, where the majority of the rhyming takes place at the end of the lines. In this new album, the rhymes come throughout the lines, and the rhyme scheme is constantly shifting. Here’s an example from the second song on the album, “We The People:” “Guilty pleasures take the edge off reality / And for a salary I’d probably do that shit sporadically.” Throughout the album, the Tribe uses this heavily improved vocal skill to tackle a plethora of issues, from gentrification on “We The People,” to everyone’s favorite president-elect on “The Donald.” It’s great to see that Tribe hasn’t lost their social consciousness on this album, and the fact that they are able to tackle this issues in a fresh and exciting way is only further testament to their greatness.
One of the other notable aspects of this album are the impressive features the Tribe managed to pull together, not surprising considering their legendary status in the music community. The album includes cameos from Kendrick Lamar, Busta Rhymes, Anderson .Paak, Elton John, Jack White, Andre 3000, Consequence and Kanye West. Quite a list. Although a few of these artists make only single-song appearances, Busta and Consequence appear on multiple songs throughout the album, delivering excellent verses throughout. Kendrick (as always) delivers a killer, yet somewhat short verse on “Conrad Tokyo,” Anderson .Paak (as always) contributes that beautiful voice of his to “Movin’ Backwards” and Andre 3000 is all over perhaps what is perhaps the most off-brand track on the album, “Kids…” Elton John, unfortunately, is minimally present on his feature, delivering an annoying, repetitive line that is turned into a looping sample on the production for “Solid Wall of Sound,” where he simply sings “solid wall of sound,” throughout the entire track, one of the few pieces of production that miss the mark on this project. Another weak point comes in the vocal mixing on “We The People,” a song that, though still incredible, is dropped slightly in quality by the weirdly gritty, reverberated filter placed on the vocals.
Back to front, this is a solid project. It’s refreshing to see the Tribe willing to experiment and take risks instead of falling back into their tried-and-true sound, though this new direction may leave some fans who wanted a nostalgia trip feeling somewhat disappointed. Even in their relatively old age they are still unafraid to put themselves out there and push the boundaries of the genre, something that made them so successful in the ‘90s. And yet, despite the new direction, one can be secure in the knowledge that they are still listening to a true tribe album, with so many of their iconic elements present throughout the project. Though it may take a few listens to get used to, this album will go down as an excellent curtain call for the Tribe. Rest in peace Phife Dawg, and thank you 4 your service.
“We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service” was released on Nov. 11, 2016.