Familiar with A Tribe Called Quest as I am, this is the first chance I, like everyone else my age and younger, have had to be a part of an ATCQ release. In that sense, “We Got It From Here… Thank You for Your Service” is my first Tribe album. Funny enough, it’s only an experience which I’ve been afforded through a De La Soul release, who trace their roots back to a proximity with the Tribe. Even then though, the Tribe has been a lot more spasmodic in their releases and even called it quits at one point.
It’s the Tribe I know from watching “Beats, Rhyme, and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest”; the group of legendary rappers who couldn’t stay on the same accord long enough to continue creating great music. The ego they worked to stamp out on several occasions was the very thing that divided them.
After a few listens to Thank You, though, the group, it seems, maintained a sense of self-awareness that both informed their breakup and their reunion 18 years after the release of “The Love Movement”. When the electricity shorted, the group split and later, in a spot prime for rejuvenation, a spark was rediscovered leading to the release of their definitive last album; the last they could complete with the now deceased Phife Dawg who powers the LP entirely.
Not only does Phife bring his signature style and wordplay all throughout the album but the beginning and opening are laced with chants offered up to the deceased Phife.
For being my first Tribe album, Phife appears as the group’s ace and perhaps their glue, as well. Knowing what I did though, I’m aware that Jairobi was the glue and Tip was in many ways the ace.
Never had I heard the Tribe come incorrect and I couldn’t imagine how a release might falter regardless of the older rappers I’ve heard fall flat on their comebacks time and time again.
To me, the Tribe and their new album was to be like Michael Jordan and his return after a hiatus; the greatest act I was yet to see until I saw it. All I had was tapes and highlight reels until Mike took the court once again and proved his dominance of a game that one could watch live for the first time.
Thank You proved to be that for me and more. The album was something like the 2002 All-Star game with Kobe and AI joining Michael Jordan on the court with them exhibiting the aspects of Jordan’s game they adapted. Andre 3000, Kanye West and even Kendrick Lamar assume the role of Tribe progeny. Cons was like an uncle who led the youth to self-realization when the figureheads had resigned. His relationship with Ye speaks to such a sentiment.
Tribe’s self-effacing mantras have siloed through to a newer generation of artists. Even Kanye who seems miscategorized as such is reigned in returning to his pre-Yeezus levels of ego with timid vocals on “The Killing Season”, careful not to overstep his boundaries.
And with these features, perhaps, the Tribe had help in finding the sound that solidified them in hip-hop history. The sound was present both sonically and in terms of content. 3 Stacks was Phife’s spitting image with his name-dropping, fast food imagery on “Kids…”. 16-bit modulation put on Andre’s hook were reminiscent of the futuristic sounds that came to define the Tribe. The futurism reared its head on album opener, “The Space Program”.
Busta was a constant, whom without, the album would have been incomplete in signifying a Tribe return.
At the same time, Thank You’s feel is unmistakably vintage. They bothered not to modernize in their sound but lyrically, they’ve upgraded. On “We the People…” where their content is retrofitted to include other oppressed groups into their Afrocentric sphere, they do. And “Dis Generation” was an ode to all things currently pop culture but only in lyrics is it new. It’s the only time the album is new. Weirdly though, the album always fresh, even if not new.
Listening to Thank You, I hear the origins and pretexts for the Rap that so many would have you believe no longer exists. The alternative Blackness that pervades Childish Gambino’s art is rooted in ATCQ’s music and “Thank You” allows a first-time listener, like myself, to easier connect those dots without having to reach too far back into the past. The sincerity defining J. Cole and Kendrick (mentioned on “Dis Generation”) has another contemporary stalwart with the last Tribe release.
What is different in Thank You from Tribe’s previous acclaimed releases is the hit single (or lack thereof) exhibiting the magnitude of this hip-hop alternative. Tracks like “Award Tour” and “Electric Relaxation” consecrated the hip-hop oddball who’d flip a Lou Reed sample and then lay some pro-Black bars over it. What Thank You lacks in terms of mass appeal though, has said “slack” picked up by their descendants and contemporary beneficiaries of critical acclaim.
Tribe as they were then, is a change of pace in 2016. Perhaps, the position as a challenge for listeners is what allowed them to assume the role again on Thank You. While hip-hop was never opposed to ATCQ, easier listening existed and was often given more play. That’s likely to be the case with my generation and our first Tribe album. Like the Rap community did before though, some will grab hold of the group’s genius and move forward with this sound. It’s the least the culture could do to thank them for their service.