It may be hard to remember the last time Saturday Night Live mattered before this weekend’s upcoming episode aired, but this is a doozy: Self-exiled genius comic Dave Chappelle is hosting with musical guest, long-disbanded genius hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, who just released their final album on Friday. It will be epic. Here’s why.
Before the show was announced, you didn’t think ATCQ would perform again, and now you know the group won’t perform again. If you saw the fascinating documentary Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest, then you know that there was no chance of ATCQ reuniting. Q-Tip’s ego, Phife Dawg’s feelings and Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s solo success made it seem impossible. (Meanwhile, Jarobi White left the group in 1991 but rejoined in 2006.)
Then, to celebrate the anniversary of their seminal debut, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, they announced a few obligatory tour dates. In Nov. 2015, the group performed on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and, according to Q-Tip, they all realized the chemistry was still there, prompting them to return to the studio. “The energy for us that night was one that we hadn’t experienced on stage together in some time,” he wrote on Facebook. And, just as suddenly, Phife Dawg died from complications related to diabetes on March 22, 2016. Six months later, Q-Tip says they secretly recorded an album -- their final one as A Tribe Called Quest -- that can be bought today and seen performed live tomorrow. (Don’t wait for a tour.)
A Timely Reemergence
It is important enough to bring Chappelle out of self-imposed exile. Sure, like ATCQ, he had a few tour dates here and there, but things have never been the same since he abruptly left his culture-challenging, massively successful Chappelle’s Show in 2006. (Yes, it has been a decade.) Since he’s hosting SNL, we’ll see him doing sketch comedy for an hour and a half. And wasn’t there an election this week?
End of an Era
Both ATCQ and Chappelle represent a creative period unparalleled today. The group defined ‘90s hip-hop, from its intelligent, honest rhymes on young African-American life to its ridiculously sumptuous beats built on foundational jazz and blues. Similarly, Chappelle built an incredible dialogue with his weekly show and tackled race, sex and politics like peak Richard Pryor. It was also the last gasp before cable cutting. When was the last time you watched a sketch comedy show religiously on TV? Exactly. ATCQ and Chappelle represent a bygone period, and this SNL moment is our Jurassic Park.
Marker of Legacy
It will remove any doubt of ATCQ’s place among the classics of hip-hop. The group would influence, if not directly play the architect for ‘90s rappers Nas, Common and Jay Z (who romantically inspired R&B stars Kelis, Erykah Badu and Beyonce, respectively), not to mention today’s biggest hip-hop. Kanye West, Drake and Kendrick Lamar? They wouldn’t exist without A Tribe Called Quest -- and if they did exist, they would have flopped. The guys paved the way for modern thoughtful hip-hop.
In the aftermath of a downright ugly American presidential race, few people could bring us back to humanity as deftly as Chappelle (especially now that Jon Stewart has left the building). Imagine the jokes the prodigal son has been sitting on during this two-year marathon? We need someone to help us process the absurdity, and few people are more qualified.
We will also be witnessing peak black excellence. The best hip-hop group in the world holds a eulogy for its fallen brother prompting the best sketch comedian of his era out of exile four days after we accept the radical end of the Obama legacy. It is as if the universe knew black -- nay, artistic culture -- would need this comfort three weeks ago when the show was confirmed. You’re welcome, America.