What can I say? I feel like I owe this album a part of my identity at this point. It was my first exposure to A Tribe Called Quest, and initiated an entire phase of my life where a pretty good chunk of what I listened to was old school hip hop. Without this album I’d be asking you who the hell is Public Enemy, or De La Soul, or Jungle Brothers, and that’s not a world I want to live in. Their decision to expose their sounds/ideas to a new generation of hip hop fans was incredibly smart, especially considering it translates so well regardless of who or what kind of hip hop you’re a fan of. If you appreciate the culture, it’s pretty hard not to like We Got it From Here. It never gets old; play after play, it still holds up every single time. Which I guess is pretty reminiscent of ATCQ on the whole, and what they’ve shown us in this project; after all these years they’ve still maintained what made them great in the first place. In terms of comeback records, this is really everything you could ever desire. It brings the same jazz-rap sound ATCQ always had, but taken a step further with modernized touches on the production. Songs like Ego or Enough show how they can bring their old fire and charisma from back in the day, and songs like We The People or Dis Generation show how they can build on that.
Tribe demonstrates clear respect for the old and new generation by incorporating features from old school veterans like Busta Rhymes and André 3000 as well as current names in hip hop like Kendrick and Anderson .Paak. And these features are nearly perfectly worked into the songs; which is definitely one of the most impressive qualities of the record, and Tribe as a whole really. Take areas like the second verse on Solid Wall of Sound or the first verse on Dis Generation for example- every member of Tribe’s flow still so tight, natural, and compatible with the others’, and features feel like they’re members of the group.
The album’s production shows influences from jazz, funk, and reggae (staples of Tribe’s classic sound), with added guitar, keyboard, and vocal samples that make it feel more current. It’s full of killer basslines that totally remind me of The Low End Theory, especially in songs like Ego or The Killing Season. Jack White’s contributions on guitar in multiple songs like The Donald, Conrad Tokyo, and Ego make the album’s rock influences more pronounced as well. Softer cuts like Solid Wall of Sound, Lost Somebody, or The Space Program use piano samples and are more mellow and subdued in tone. They definitely work as nice breaks from the other aggressively passionate and hard-hitting tracks like We The People. Tribe uses such a wide range of approaches to these songs, making each stand out in their own way, yet natural alongside the others.
The flow of the record from topic to topic feels pretty natural; it starts with a strong political energy that continues to show up in later areas. We The People has probably the most obvious political connotation of the album, with focus on rejecting discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, all the works; it’s also a total banger and pretty impossible to ignore in the context of the project. That and The Space Program also address gentrification and its impact on black folk in poor communities. The Killing Season makes a pretty heavy statement on police brutality, and the treatment of black army veterans and political figures. Conrad Tokyo is about the wealth gap that benefits the upper class, and makes suggestions about the way we’ve become so used to being at war as a society it’s like second nature at this point; Kendrick’s verse on this thing is definitely one of the most compelling on the album (“Devils and demons and Deuteronomy / Futigate our economy, ‘lluminate broken dreams / And manifest all insanity, look around / Sayonara tomorrow, it’s just blood on the ground”).
Once we get into some later tracks the death of Phife Dawg understandably takes a larger role in the theme of the album. There’s definitely some moments on here that are vivid and utterly heartbreaking and make you think about the effect a loss like that has to have had on a group like this that’s grown and changed with each other side by side after so many years. He recorded a good amount of verses for the album before his death, but there are also songs that mostly feature the remaining members directly commenting on his passing. Black Spasmodic starts with a verse from Phife about how glad he was that Tribe getting back to making music; Q-Tip finishes off the song with a verse dedicated to his memory. Lost Somebody is especially emotional and nostalgic; Q-Tip and Jarobi share different moments they remember with Phife and the way his death impacts the way their importance to them.
This was really the ultimate hip hop record of 2016. It’s of course rare and special that a group that made such a name for themselves so long ago can make material that lives up to their classics; yet ATCQ went the extra mile and gave us a record that’s relevant not only in today’s landscape of sound, but also politically and socially. Despite being 16 tracks long, it’s engaging the whole way through and every song brings something unique to the table. Lyrically there’s not a single lazy or dull moment, and all of the members and features pull through with smart verses. Their flows all feel like they’re in harmony with each other, yet each one has their own clear distinct style. I don’t think Tribe could’ve approached their return to the music scene more effectively; I’m so glad that they went out with a bang and left us with such an impactful and essential record. I can’t thank them enough for being such a huge part of what made me fall in love with hip hop through every single one of its eras. And of course, rest in peace to Phife Dawg; you’re a legend.