Quest still on: Tribe makes prodigious return on final album

JAKE O'CONNELL
Associated Press
FILE - In this Nov. 12, 2015 file photo, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, from left, Jarobi White, and Malik Isaac Taylor aka Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest pose for a portrait at Sirius XM studios in New York. On Veteran’s Day, A Tribe Called Quest released their first album in 18 years with all four of the founding members _ Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi taking part. Phife, who called himself the “Funky Diabetic,” passed away in March from the disease. (Photo by Brian Ach/Invision/AP, File)

A Tribe Called Quest "We Got It from Here. Thank You 4 Your Service" (Epic)

On Veteran's Day, A Tribe Called Quest released their first album in 18 years with all four founding members — Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi — taking part. Phife, who called himself the "Funky Diabetic," passed away in March from the disease. Rallying around his death, "We Got It from Here. Thank You 4 Your Service" caps off one of hip-hop's most storied runs.

The Phifer's jovial wordplay and the track dedications to his life are the heart of the record. On some "champion pen game," one minute he's scorching MCs in dancehall mode, the next he's griping about "surge pricing on these Ubers." But the Trini gladiator stayed grounded to the end: "I take zero for granted, I honor my gift."

Spiritual leader Q-Tip is still the Abstract Poetic. And those abstractions run deep. On "Black Spasmodic" he's playing bass and dusting the Dead Sea with "cremated molecules." Along the way, he harmonizes with Elton John, perks up about a photoshopped "face on a box of McCormick gravy" and harnesses the power of a dusty Nairobi Sisters sample.

Once content to play the wall, Jarobi even steps to the mic, emitting a confident Native Tongue flair. Longtime cohorts Consequence (who's "got the game on IV") and a Rastafarian Busta Rhymes also shine.

Other stars show out in force. The Andre 3000 spot is a high point: "I ain't no almanac/so lick my dictionary." Kendrick Lamar is hot on his coattails rhyming "Deuteronomy" with "fumigate our economy." Talib Kweli echoes Gil Scott Heron's "Winter in America" and Kanye West is feeling that hook on "The Killing Season."

Musically, their theories continue to favor the low end as they burrow paths of rhythm. And they still got the jazz, embedding vibrant chord structures in the forward push. The buoyant organ loop on "The Space Program" and jubilant hopscotch skitter of "Dis Generation" will please the ATCQ purists. New aspects include more live instrumentation (Jack White plugs in), a lean toward rock (Sabbath sample, Stooges influence) and a healthy dose of dub tactics.

It's a feel good record but politics and race loom large. As Phife and Q-Tip direct on the opener, "It's time to go left and not right." The ideal soundtrack to the Black Lives Matter movement, slide this one right next to Public Enemy's "Fear of a Black Planet." At one point, Jarobi dejects, "Seems like my only crime is having melanin." But ATCQ is not just holding it down for black people. As Tip iterates on "We the People.," they've got the backs of Mexicans, Muslims, the LGBT community and the impoverished.

No longer Midnight Marauders, "We Got It from Here. " is about a new day, unbridled expression, cutting through disillusion and healing. But most of all flexing their inimitable vibe y'all. Tribe still getting live y'all.