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Music Review: 'We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service,' A Tribe Called Quest


Eighteen years after its last album, the hip hop group A Tribe Called Quest has released a new one, and the group now says it will be their last. Just as they were finishing that record earlier this year, founding member Phife Dawg died of complications from diabetes. He was 45.

The new album is called "We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service." Reviewer Oliver Wang says it feels like an act of catharsis.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I going to deal with a bigger insult, Man.

OLIVER WANG, BYLINE: When tribe announced its new album just a few months ago, followers of the group reacted with surprise elation and just a touch of apprehension. After all, in the world of pop, two decades is an eternity. Plus, hip hop artists don't have the best track record when it comes to late-career releases.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Got to get it together for brothers, got to get it together for sisters.

WANG: But we needn't have worried.


A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: (Rapping) Sit and wonder sometimes - I read the paper every day. All these happenings is cyclical, just happen different ways. And the president's refined. In her wing, she's confined with about 30 Percocets and five bottles of wine. Carolina nothing finer than a black woman who climbs to the top of the state building, claiming that the flag is mine. Now...

WANG: The album pulls off a tricky balance. It delivers a vintage experience of Tribe - musically festive and socially feisty - without sounding like a pandering throwback to the group's glory days of the early 1990s. "We Got It From Here" doesn't feel either old or contemporary. It mostly just feels like a Tribe Called Quest album. And more than anything, that's what fans have craved these past two decades.


A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: (Rapping) Man, picture a PD letting good records play. On the strength of what it is, not the finesse of your biz - and your lady calls you dirty. Her dirt's under rugs. You'll find out only if she tells you. Take her kiss and hug 'cause in the answer for cancer in a prodigious kid's mind - yes, the government will fund. Learning is free for everyone And from that lie, young leaders will rise in the eyes of despair and adversity. In some universe, this verse will be true.

Everybody running when they see the storm's coming, but whatever's going to be will be. Everybody running when they see the storm's coming, but whatever's going to be will be.

WANG: Q-Tip's slippery grace with his uniquely nasal flow is still as mesmerizing as ever, and the album invites aboard such old friends as rappers Busta Rhymes and Consequence plus long-absent founding member Jarobi. But with his recent passing, Phife becomes the centerpiece.


A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: (Rapping) Now, who want it with the Trini gladiator - mid finger to you haters, you biters, not innovators. I take zero for granted. I honors my gift - champion pen game, plus I'm freestyle equipped. You clowns be bum sauce. Speak my name. It's curtains.

WANG: Surprisingly, hearing his pugilistic presence again didn't remind me that Phife is gone. So much has reinforced how alive he was.


A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: (Rapping) How do you touch a mic with flows uncertain? Speak game dry, Boy - that flow ain't working. Folks throwing items, them vex and cursing.

WANG: The musicians have said they were paying close attention to the election while recording the album. And it's no coincidence that "We Got It From Here" ends with a song called "The Donald." It's not about our new president-elect, though, but a dedication to Phife, who reclaims the D-word for himself...


A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: (Rapping) Phife Dawg legend - you could call me Don Juice. I'm...

WANG: ...And, by extension, for the rest of us on.


A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: (Rapping) Who want to spar? Ha, ha, well, here I are - orthodox spitter or bring on the southpaw. No doubt I'm going to set it. Dudes best be ready. Off top on the spot, no reading from your Whackberry (ph). Leave the iPhones home. Skill sets must be shown. I'm going to show you the real meaning of the danger zone.

WANG: A Tribe Called Quest gave us the best of themselves a generation ago. They didn't owe us this one last album. Yet here it is, a parting gift right when we needed it the most.


MCEVERS: Our reviewer Oliver Wang is an associate professor of sociology at Cal State Long Beach and author of the book "Legions Of Boom." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: November 16, 2016 at 12:00 AM EST
Oliver Wang's book Legions of Boom is mistakenly called Legions of Bloom at the end of this story.