I honestly didn't know how to write this. I've written version after version, all of them seeming like too much, too little, too...something. The sad thing is that whatever I write people will read it and probably just say, "Ok," and move along, and I'm sitting here losing my mind trying to include everything I deem important. But after a few deep breaths, I realized my intention with this review is simple. The only important thing is that you listen to this record, and then go back and listen to all of their records, and then repeat that process for the rest of your life. A Tribe Called Quest is special, this is a truth I can't stress enough. For those of you aware of that, I hope this brief trip through time holds your interest, and for those who aren't, my wish is that this ignites a fire strong enough that you feel compelled to spend a little time with the group that effectively changed hip hop for the better.
The history of hip hop, it's influence on music as a whole, and overall cultural significance, casts a massive net, massively interesting, but massive nonetheless. My initial review chronicled my personal history with the genre; it seemed relevant to include as my growth and appreciation stemmed largely from A Tribe Called Quest, both in a conscious and subconscious way. However, that ended up being a longwinded "look at what I used to listen to!" version that took the focus away from the group. In other words, I accomplished the exact opposite of what I intended. All that really needs to be said is, "Start the album," because the music will speak for itself. But maybe you can indulge me for a few minutes, and pretend for a second that a few more words are necessary.
Earlier this year we lost one of hip hops preeminent MC's. Phife Dawg (picture, right) wasn't just a founding member to A Tribe Called Quest, he was a life force, so while he was around for part of the albums recording, his presence is felt during all of it. Jarobi sums it up perfectly with one line on "Lost Somebody," the groups tribute to their fallen friend, "Heart of the largest lion trapped inside a little dude," because if you only heard his bars, you'd have thought he was the tallest man alive. The natural chemistry between childhood friends Phife and Q-Tip was what hooked me, add in DJ/ producer Ali Shaheed Muhammed, and sometimes fourth member Jarobi White, and you got a foursome that was unparalleled. The combination of confidence and ease of sound was a rarity (you have to be confident to open your DEBUT with a 7+ minute track!), and you could hear it in every track, every beat, every bar.
We got it from Here... Thank You 4 Your service was going to be good no matter what, whether I say that on the strength of my biases or the strength of my confidence in Q-Tip and Co. I don't know, I just knew it would be good. With that said, few of us expected it to be THIS good. It's a near perfect example of a group updating their sound without sacrificing it, which is due in part to bringing back old collaborators like Busta Rhymes (who is a fire starter to say the least) and Consequence, as well as new trailblazers like Kendrick Lamar and Anderson .Paak; then you've got Andre 3000, who trades bars with Tip like he's been doing it all his life, and this album becomes a dream come true. And as for the core four? What is there to say? They're elevated. The guys have never sounded better (seriously), each member having their moment in the sun: Q-Tip on "Black Spasmodic," Jarobi on "Movin' Backwards," Phife on "Whateva Will Be," then there are tracks like the opener, "The Space Program" and "Dis Generation" where everyone gets a turn, the group weaving in and out of one another's flows seamlessly.
This album is a culmination of everything they've ever given us. As I listened, I couldn't help but hear the fun, freewheeling style of People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, the precision and naturalness that came with The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders, the production switch (props to The Unmah/ RIP to Dilla) and darker tone of Beats, Rhymes, & Life, and the switch back to (mostly) lighter fare on their "final" record, 1998's The Love Movement. While I was listening to hip hop during the release of the latter two, my maturity as a listener wasn't in place until a few years later, but as I dove into all of their albums, and continue to today, one thing is apparent above all else; A Tribe Called Quest is a force of good that will never be vanquished. Their commentary has always risen above the pettiness of the game that many of their fellow artists fell victim to (listen to Q-Tip's opening verse on 1996's "Keep It Movin'" amidst the height of the East/ West beef), focusing instead on forward movement, an ideal they've been preaching their entire career.
The shelf life of an artist essentially lasts as long as the artist wants it to, but longstanding relevance is a whole other beast. For Tribe to dominate an entire decade over the course of a five album stretch was a win in and of itself, but to come back after an 18 year absence and sound this fresh? I'm blown away. The album is a celebration as much as it's a reminder, a celebration of hip hops golden age, and of a group that offered up as much of an education as they did fun, reminding us that not so long ago rap was about something bigger than just good beats to groove to, it was about making a statement, making a difference. No group was better suited to deliver that message in the 90's and, with this album, they prove that there is still nobody better to deliver it now.
I never thought I'd be talking about new Tribe, it never even crossed my mind, even as they reunited last year for the 25 anniversary of their debut, People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. But now we're here, and the more I listened the harder it was for me to find the words. What I want to say, the joy I feel listening, is so painfully obvious with every track. I feel like a kid again, riding in the backseat on my way to school, begging my mom to switch the radio to "my station," and though I had no clue who A Tribe Called Quest was, or what they were rapping about, every time "Electric Relaxation" or "1nce Again" came on I felt hypnotized. Well I know them now, and I'm still hypnotized. Thank you Tribe, thank you Tip, thank you Shaheed, thank you Jarobi, and thank you Phife, may you rest in piece knowing that your last moments were spent creating a gift that will live on long after we've all joined you. Peace.
There's quite a few songs to sift through if you're a new fan, so I figured I'd put together a two song introduction to each album. These songs might not be the albums best, but they are my favorites. Enjoy!
People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990)
The Low End Theory
Beats, Rhymes & Life
The Love Movement
We got it from Here... Thank You 4 Your service