It seems like comeback albums are becoming more and more frequent now, with last year seeing the return of acts like Dr. Dre and Blur, and this year seeing Solange and Metallica coming back after nearly a decade. But none of these feel the same as A Tribe Called Quest who recently announced their first album in 18 years. The news came as a shock to most, as rumors of this project have been put to rest following the death of leading MC Phife Dawg back in March. I was scared this record would feel like a cash grab, trying to capture ATCQ’s nostalgia one last time. While it does ignite feelings of nostalgia, We Got It From Here… goes above and beyond to create a great piece of contemporary hip-hop.
The album is broken up into two discs, the first of which feels more like the comeback album the group was likely set out to originally create. The opening track “The Space Program” sees all four members together again after decades, passing the mic to one another effortlessly, giving each of the three MCs adequate time to deliver. The social commentary is strong, detailing the difficulties of minority communities. They use the titular space program illustrate how when the world ends, the poorest inhabitants will be left here.
These themes continue on the bass-heavy “We the People….” which roars as Q-Tip comes in with some of his most energetic delivery. Phife Dawg also comes in with an equally effective verse at the end. The song is aggressive, attacking the hate in our country towards seemingly every minority group. It’s a short song but it gets its point across well.
“Whateva Will Be” goes into how African-Americans feel stuck in a system that is against them. The track has Q-Tip spitting fast bars, and Jarobi is able to keep up with his verse in the middle. The song ends with the album’s first feature from Consequence who is no stranger to working with ATCQ and sounds just as good as he always has. The song fades well into “Solid Wall of Sound” which samples Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” surprisingly well, really embedding it into the musical landscape. We then get a feature from Busta Rhymes as he trades bars alongside Phife and Q-Tip, which sounds great considering the sad truth it was arranged following Phife’s death. The end calms down as Elton John himself comes in on the piano, singing the outro of the song.
The group then symbolically discusses passing the torch along on “Dis Generation,” a track that directly states rappers like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Earl Sweatshirt and Joey Bada$$, calling them extensions of the music they help to innovate. The song continues to show the chemistry between the group’s three MCs and Busta Rhymes as the four of them deliver bar after bar of great material. It is also just nice to see an older generation show respect for the new acts, especially since this is their last record.
Continuing his series of guest appearances, André 3000 gives a lengthy guest feature on “Kids…” The track addresses the younger generation of rap fans, stating the fantasy of finding success in doing things like drug dealing, and the success they see is just fantasy. André’s work here is his best of the year, he is given plenty to do and he shows that he is hungry to get back into music, alluding to a possible comeback in one of his verses.
Q-Tip is the sole rapper to appear on “Melatonin” where he raps about having to take the titular supplement to help him stay calm during these stressful times. The more relaxed, bassy production gives the track a great sluggish feel. The final song on this first disc “Enough!!” is another slower track, going into the struggle of balancing music and love in Jarobi and Q-Tip’s lives. The song does not fit on the record perfectly but it is still very good and would probably work much better on another record.
The second disc on here definitely feels like the part of this project that was created following the death of Phife and serves as an excellent swan song for A Tribe Called Quest. The first song “Mobius” does not even feature any of the group’s members, instead relying solely on Consequence and Busta Rhymes. This second half really picks up with “Black Spasmodic” which has Phife and Q-Tip rapping over a bouncy beat, with Consequence handling the hook. The song ends with what might be Q-Tip’s greatest verse as he recalls hearing Phife Dawg talk to him in spirit, coming across as genuinely heartbroken over his death and makes the music on this record feel all the more personal.
The second half also features the bulk of this album’s unique guest features. On “The Killing Season” we are given a great first verse from Talib Kweli, followed by a fairly simple hook sung by Kanye West. Outside of wishing Kanye had more to do, the song is great and one of the most political on this half. Themes of racism and unjust racially motivated murders are all over this track and it works excellently.
The first direct tribute to Phife Dawg comes with “Lost Somebody” where Q-Tip and Jarobi both pay their respect to their lost friend. They look back on memories they had with him and the pain of actually having to make this music. Jarobi in particular really stands out here, giving his most heartfelt verse on this project. Katie Cadet’s chorus is beautiful and adds a classy touch to the song, before it is eventually cut short to make room for the start of a guitar solo from Jack White whose work appears throughout this second half.
“Movin Backwards” is a positive track, focused on trying to stay positive in order to prevent yourself from getting lost in the world. The song feels like a plea from ATCQ to be remembered after this album, despite this being their last new material. Of course, the addition of Anderson .Paak to sing a large portion of this song only helps. This is one of his best performances of 2016, really emoting and showing off his natural charisma.
The last of the more politically charged songs, “Conrad Tokyo” starts with a verse from Phife Dawg addressing the scary times that seem to approaching, directly mentioning Donald Trump, which is a little upsetting just knowing he recorded this far before Trump was even the Republican nominee, let alone President-elect. Kendrick Lamar has a short verse on here, one I think should have been extended, but it is certainly a strong and aggressive performance from him.
The group throws it back to their classic sound with “Ego” which benefits the most from its production. Outside of the throwback beat, Jack White continues to prove how gifted he truly is on the guitar. The lyrics are straightforward about the effects a celebrity’s ego has on them. The song wraps up sincerely, saying that because this is their last record, their egos hope we connected to this project.
The final song, contrary to what people have been thinking, is not a crusade against Donald Trump. I am honestly glad it is not, as what we get is much more sincere and wraps up this record in a satisfying way. “The Donald,” a reference to Phife Dawg’s nickname Don Juice, is a final tribute to the great rapper. Busta Rhymes comes in for the first verse, stating that while he had to come in to help fill the void left by Phife’s absence, nothing could possibly replace him. Following this is Phife Dawg’s final verse, which feels very true to who he was as a rapper, and sees him confidently naming himself as the great rapper he was, calling many of the rappers now untouchable to him. Q-Tip continues this theme, going on about how great he really was before Busta Rhymes gives and extended outro, accompanied by a powerful guitar solo from Jack White before it cuts off with the final line, “Phife Dawg.”
This is an incredible record and one that will be adored by those who grew up with A Tribe Called Quest. This surpassed all my expectations and is everything I could have imagined it would have been. Each of the 16 tracks on here are great and while hitting various topics, all go back to the theme of this being the group’s last record. They gave us something to always remember them by and while we all hoped their return would be less bittersweet, I am glad they made such a genuine and respectful project like this. This is the highest of recommendations for me and will be my favorite hip-hop record of the year.
Best Tracks: The Space Program, We the People…., Whateva Will Be, Solid Wall of Sound, Dis Generation, Kids…, Melatonin, Black Spasmodic, The Killing Season, Lost Somebody, Movin Backwards, The Donald
Worst Track: Enough!!