Andre 3000’s Heartfelt Tribute to Phife Dawg & A Tribe Called Quest
“Man, it’s about Phife. I wasn’t prepared to say anything, but it’s like, “Outkast would not be Outkast.” When we got our deal, we rapped for [Outkast producer] Rico Wade in the parking lot. The only thing me and Big [Boi] had was “Scenario” on cassette and we rapped for days, just going. And in high school, my first rap name was Jhaz because of these niggas. It was J-H-A-Z; I don’t know how I was thinking I was spelling that shit. [Crowd laughs.] Because of “Jazz (We’ve Got).” We would sit in high school and be like, “Man, we love them.”
I’m going to say some interesting news and some disappointing news at the same time. About a year or two ago, we were talking about doing a Tribe Called Quest and Outkast album. Yeah. For whatever reason, it did not happen. I don’t want to let the time go by, because you never know. And that’s one of the biggest things about regret. Whatever reason we didn’t do it, it was on our plate and we just… let it go for our own personal reasons.
Influence. Influence is really important. In the same way that we’re here because of you all, and it’s totally true. Man, our label tried so hard to make us Tribe. [Crowd laughs.] In our bio — we didn’t write the shit — they called me the poet and Big Boi the playa like it was some “Southern Tribe” shit. We didn’t like it; we just wanted to rap. But they wanted us to be Tribe so bad and we loved them niggas so bad, we were like, “We’ll be a street Tribe.” We’ll be robbin niggas. Imagine me tryin to rob a nigga. [Crowd laughs.] We wanted to be “hood Tribe.” I guess that’s what we ended up being, in a way.
But influence. I had a conversation with Tip and it shocked the shit out of me. One day, he said, ‘When y’all came out as Outkast, I knew that the tides had changed. I knew rap had changed.” And I knew what he was talking about because when I see [Lil] Wayne and Young Thug, I’m like, “Ohhh, I can’t keep up with that shit. It’s so dope.” It’s the connection. They’re them because of us and it has to keep going. All this old niggas hatin on the young niggas, that shit got to stop. It’s all music. It’s all influence. It’ll keep going because we’re all connected.
I don’t have no big message or speech or nothing but just, “Keep that shit going.” And Tribe meant everything to me. They are everything. It’s always, “Who are the greatest groups?” Fuck that shit. [Points to Tribe Called Quest.] This dude [Q-Tip] taught me what kind of rapper I wanted to be. My first rap, I remember it now, it was “Young and naive/Alive I keep the dream/Writin’ funky lyrics at the age of 16.” I wrote it because of you. [Points to Q-Tip.] I didn’t even know what the word naive meant. [Crowd laughs.] Q-Tip taught me words. “Elation.” I’m sitting in high school like, “Damn I gotta look this shit up.” “I’m filled with elation.” Ohhhhh, okay. We can use these words too? We can be smart? Yeah, man. He gave me fuel. And I gotta give the young niggas fuel. We gotta quit hatin’ on each other. To Phife.”
Explaining the return of A Tribe Called Quest to the pop firmament is nigh impossible without hyperbole, so here goes: Imagine The Beatles had reunited to give us all one last classic, something as substantive as Abbey Road — instead of “Free as a Bird,” the quaint single the Fab Four released 25 years after breaking up. Tribe wasn’t the first hip-hop act to try sensitivity (after all, LL Cool J’s “I Need Love” predates the group’s 1990 debut, People’s Instinctive Travelsand the Paths of Rhythm). But the members — Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White — brought an everyman aspect to rap at a time when it was dominated by groups of outsized, superheroic stature: Run-DMC, N.W.A, Public Enemy. The release today of new music from the venerated crew, 18 years after what was supposed to be its final album, is that impossibly rare musical event: a long gone, much beloved act reappearing with its creative powers intact.
We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service is both a reunion and a tribute, arriving just a few months after the death of Phife Dawg, whose lyrical interplay with fellow MC Q-Tip was the backbone of the group for much of its history and who contributed to the album before succumbing to complications from diabetes in March. In that way, the album is a throwback, the first true collaboration between Tip and Phife since the group broke up in 1998. But within its first few tracks, We Got It from Here announces itself as a product of its moment.