A Tribe Called Quest We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service Epic Records
The more you think about the sixth A Tribe Called Quest LP, the more remarkable it becomes. Before making it, childhood friends Q-Tip and Phife Dawg had to first repair a relationship badly fractured following the group’s unhappy disintegration towards the end of the last century; recording still wasn’t complete when Phife passed away earlier this year. The album reunites all four founder members, one of whom is effectively making his debut here (Jairobi White, the group’s “spirit guide”, left the band in 1991, having never rapped on any of their records). And yet, despite all that, they’ve managed to make an album that doesn’t just remind long-term fans of how great they once were, but that stands as a worthy addition to one of hip-hop’s more lauded discographies.
The group have returned with the same distinctive sound they’d developed over their first five LPs in the 1990s, ever so delicately spruced up to ensure it still feels fresh. Shadows of the past are allowed to hover in the background rather than being flung, blinking and confused, into the spotlight. The Space Program shares a loping vibe with Award Tour; the Rotary Connection sitar sample first used in Bonita Applebum drops in like an old friend during Enough!!. There’s space for experimentation, as Kids…, a collaboration with Andre 3000 of the heavily Tribe-influenced OutKast, pounds by on panicked piano, while Jack White adds string-damped menace to the brew as the hookline of Ego references the epochal posse cut, Scenario.
Best of all, Tribe have as much to say as they have engaging ways of saying it. If the lyrics of the three opening tracks (The Space Program, We The People… and Whateva Will Be) feel like they could have been written back in the ’90s, that’s only because police brutality and America’s racial divisions are as pronounced today as they were between Yusef Hawkins’ murder and Rodney King’s beating, when Tribe made their name. Yet the record is never wearisome or overbearing, the band’s mastery of contrasting moods evident throughout a track list that ends with The Donald – not a protest song about the president-elect, but a hymn to the Trinidad-descended Phife’s status as the don-dada of the microphone. He will be sorely missed, but his group’s last testament does him and his comrades considerable honour.