It’s no secret if you’ve seen Michael Rappaport’s excellent 2011 documentary, “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest” that there was static between Phife and Tribe’s presumptive leader Q-Tip from time to time. But those disagreements seemed to be like that of brothers having arguments. Even at the most frustrating times, it was obvious they had love for one another.
Q-Tip, Phife, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White reform here as if there wasn’t ever any sort of tension between them. This is a “Golden Era”-level record that surpasses 1996’s “Beats, Rhymes & Life” and 1998’s “The Love Movement” by a long shot. Both of those records are good, but this one is a new awakening. It’s a modern hip-hop classic that is bound to influence another new generation of fans.
Q-Tip really tackled this album with love. It was recorded in his home studio and it has a living, breathing quality. You can feel the energy in the room. Tracks like “Whateva Will Be” and “Black Spasmodic” have booming bass-lines that bring to mind DJ-sets at outdoor block parties in Queens and Brooklyn. At its best moments, this collection has a thick layer of dust around its grooves, giving it the “straight from vinyl” freshness not really heard on a Tribe record since 1990’s “People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm.” Q-Tip is obviously an ace crate-diver and his expert tastes show quite strongly on this collection.
This is a biting and political record in places. The raging single “We The People…” attacks exclusionary political platforms, while there are mentions of the current political climate peppered throughout the set.
Most of all, this album stands as a tribute to Phife. “Lost Someone” is touching tribute. If you thought “The Donald” would be a Trump-themed political song, it isn’t. It, too is a loving tribute to Phife, with an utterly jaw-dropping scratch-break.
“We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service” shows Tribe at their most complete. After all, Jarobi White left the group after their debut to become a chef only to return for the reunion shows. On that debut, he’d delivered the spoken interludes. It’s great to hear him now thrown into the mix, dropping bars. Of course, for those of us who heard his side project Evitan with Dres from Black Sheep, his rhyming skills were far from a surprise.
This album shouldn’t be morose. Had Phife lived, this would be the group’s true victory lap. It still is, but the joy of Tribe’s return is slightly tainted by Phife’s absence for their current promotion of the record. Nevertheless, this is timeless hip-hop from one of the most influential rap groups on the planet. This is the album we need right now in these times of strife, providing the audience with some stellar grooves and more fitting closure than “The Love Movement” provided back in ’98. No doubt, with the release of this record, Tribe just guaranteed their strong influence will last another generation. This is mandatory listening for every fan of hip-hop. It’s a record that balances the group’s legacy with an innovative vision.
This album is a firm restatement of purpose. If Phife was here, you could make the argument that this album possibly could have lit the fire again for a string of more releases. After an 18-year break, A Tribe Called Quest have managed to re-emerge and go out on top. With this complex, nuanced record it is evident that it will be a long time before we see another group with Tribe’s resilience. This is a game-changing hip-hop record for the ages.
“Ego” This track featuring Jack White sounds like something from “The Low End Theory” as it bounces from a hardcore bass-line (that almost sounds like it is mosh-pit-ready) to a classic jazz riff. Jazz has long been Tribe’s sweet-spot but they can go harder from time to time. This track shows that the magic formula hasn’t been lost.
“Dis Generation” The title comes from a sample from Musical Youth’s classic “Pass The Dutchie” but this is classic call-and-response action from Q-Tip, Phife, Jarobi and Busta.
“We The People…” Rarely have Tribe gotten this politically-driven and forceful, but it is a side that they wear well.
“Enough” This is an R&B-flavored jam of sorts that samples the same sitar riff as the classic “Bonita Applebum.” It still sounds fresh and new and yet the call-back the past is oddly comforting.