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.
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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
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.
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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.