Mary Zech ’17, Arts Editor
Despite this iconic rap group not releasing an album since 1998, in, “We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service,” they don’t miss a beat. A Tribe Called Quest takes a step back in their sixth and final album to dish out their social commentary on controversial topics like the environment, race, and politics. This group was formed in 1985 and is composed of some of the most respected names in hip-hop, being Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Jarobi White and the late Phife Dawg. Phife’s sudden death due to diabetes in March 2016 acted as a catalyst for this album, even choosing the name that Phife originally wanted. In this final album they focus on the political culture in America, primarily the experience of the black man and climate change. In former albums, such as Midnight Marauder released in 1983, the group dabbled in jazz to diversify their sound. However, this album returned to the alternative style that revolutionized rap in the nineties.
Q-Tip in an interview by The Blast said, “It may sound “un hip-hop,” … but ecologically, we’re dying at a super fast rate. The North and South polar caps are melting and when it does that, we’re met with hurricanes and things we haven’t seen in hundreds of years, like cyclones.” His criticisms of how the environment is being treated is reflected in Space Program. This song is about how the people need to come together to see a change in America. The song discusses how the white people predominantly in power are destroying the environment, and are going to leave the destruction to the minorities and the poor. Q-Tip and Phife Dawg write, “(They would) rather see we in a three-by-three structure with many bars. Leave us where we are so they can play among the stars.” This commentary about how blacks in America are incarcerated at almost six times as much as whites. More positive tracks on the album include Dis Generation, which is a passing of hands from former rap artists to the newer ones. A Tribe Called Quest shouts out and welcomes specific names, such as Earl Sweatshirt, Joey Bada$$ and J. Cole.
Some songs lack the same strong central message, but keep the vulgarity. The use of swearing for dramatic effect is effectively used in Ego and We The People. Moreover, strong language can increase the passion of the message you are trying to convey. However, swears and vulgarity can cheapen a song too, as we see in Enough!! This piece’s message, which is about the difficulties of having love in a busy time in your life, is somewhat lost in its tasteless lyrics. It disrupts the album’s ability to be taken seriously by being played alongside tracks that talk about the real issues in a more refined language. Socially conscious songs like Conrad Tokyo make the album worthwhile, without becoming too preachy. This song, Whateva Will Be and Space Program are the most poignant when discussing how these artists feel blacks are viewed in society. In Whateva Will Be, Phife highlights the disadvantages of minorities when he sings, “Say am I ‘posed to be dead or doin’ life in prison?Just another dummy caught up in the system.” They speak to their own truth, and get to the core of what they think is wrong. Holding a mirror up to society is never easy, but doing it in 60 minutes and 18 seconds of rhythmic music is transcendent. In We The People there is seamless transition between Phife Dawg & Q-Tip, almost as if they can read each others’ minds. This album features the notable performers Elton John, André 300, Kendrick Lamar, Busta Rhymes and Jack White. The combination of old and new musicians is a theme for this album, and speaks to the collaborative element that A Tribe Called Quest was created to cultivate.
This album is important because it opens one’s eyes to the reality for blacks in America in numerous songs. The discussion of complacency in politics is important for people to hear and think about, especially after the recent presidential election. Jarobi’s hopes for the album is that, “Hopefully, it’ll spark somebody to learn the knowledge and start organizing. Everybody thinks it’s this huge process, but it starts with yourself being aware of what you want and communicating that with someone else. Rising above a nostalgia piece, We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service is proof that all good things must come to an end. This final album is a beautiful send off for an iconic hip hop group that has forever revolutionized the genre.