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‘We Got It From Here,’ Says ATCQ on Farewell Record

| Friday, November 18, 2016

atcq_web (1)Joseph Han | The Observer

To many fans of legendary rap crew A Tribe Called Quest, the death of Malik Izaak Taylor (aka Phife Dawg) in March 2016 was final assurance that the group’s long-awaited sixth album would never reach the public ear. Yet on Nov. 11, only two days after the results of the contentious American presidential election, the record was released at last. The timely release date was hardly a coincidental matter. In a bout of inspiration that followed a live show on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” the same night as the November 2015 attacks in Paris, the formerly-disbanded crew reunited to produce their final artistic statement. By the time Phife Dawg had passed, much of the record had already been completed; the rest of the team, then, was left only to wait for the right time to release it.

Given the group’s eminence and the state of national and global politics at the time of release, it comes as no surprise that the product — the busily-titled “We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service” — is both timeless and timely.

From the start, “We got it” is a reminder of everything that has made Tribe great in the past: jazzy, organic arrangements; cutting-edge yet uncluttered production; and seamless, powerful lyricism. Yet the record is not rooted in washed-out nostalgia, nor is it a hopeless attempt to keep up with changing times. Indeed, while the warm, melodic production is unlike the fast-paced, futurist beats of many contemporary hip-hop musicians, the record nonetheless feels fresh and relevant; it does not follow, but it does reinvent.

Like most Tribe records, the vibrant tracks on “We got it” evoke the eclecticism of the urban jungle, each consecutive song playing like the scene of a labyrinthine narrative that builds into a portrait of the cutthroat, polarized American metropolis. The record’s thesis is not always clear, but in a way that represents the frequent elusiveness of discernible meaning in quotidian life. Instead of mulling over philosophy, the rap crew responds to the troubled modern world and to the troubles of the people within it; the one thing of which the group is sure is that, regardless of ethnicity, sexuality or ability — or any other divisive identity — all lives are interconnected.

Throughout “We got it,” Tribe draws a sharp contrast between this reality and the state of America during one of its most tumultuous election seasons of its modern history, which has been marked by unprecedented division and mutual animosities. On “We The People,” perhaps the record’s most clear, powerful and pertinent statement, the chorus finds Q-Tip singing as a parodic proxy for the political elite: “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.” There is, of course, room for debate around whether the characterization is accurate, yet it nevertheless recalls the origins of rap music as a political and social weapon, as a medium worthy of space in the ongoing debate on the nation’s current state and uncertain future.

Above all, the record is the galvanizing final chapter of a musical saga that had gone long unfinished. But just as it brings closure, it also calls to action. On the opening track, “The Space Program,” the crew repeats “Let’s make something happen” as a rousing chant. They remind us of our communities: “Gotta get it together for brothers / Gotta get it together for sisters / For mothers and fathers and dead n—–.” The familiar terms are not vague, but rather evoke the universal people power necessary to bring about real structural change. Leave it to A Tribe Called Quest to synthesize their timeless strengths into a final record that harnesses the true ethos of rap music, the poetry of resistance.

 

Artist: A Tribe Called Quest

Album: We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 your Service

Label: Epic

Favorite Track: “We The People”

If you like: Digable Planets, De La Soul, Busta Rhymes

RATING: 4.5/5

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