Jonny Auping | Longreads | February 2019 | 20 minutes (5,266 words)
Hanif Abdurraqib claims that he “wasn’t interested in writing the definitive book on A Tribe Called Quest.” What he produced instead was much more powerful. Abdurraqib’s recently released book, Go Ahead In the Rain: Notes To A Tribe Called Quest, does provide a history of the revolutionary rap group, but more importantly it’s a memoir of listening and feeling, a deeply personal book unafraid to pair music criticism with intimate reflections.
A Tribe Called Quest debuted in 1990 with the album People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, an eclectic layering of samples produced by the group’s de facto leader, Q-Tip, and rhymed over with quirky stories and confident punch lines. Their first three albums, all released by 1993, are considered hip-hop canon and three of the most influential albums of the past 30 years across any genre.
A Tribe Called Quest’s 2016 comeback album seemed destined to debut amidst doomed circumstances. Phife Dawg, the group’s swaggering and quick-witted lyricist, had died of diabetes between the making of the album and it’s release. Three days before the album came out Donald Trump won a shocking presidential election. No singles had been released prior to We’ve Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service, but it turned out to be powerful response to the politics of the time, a prophetic pushback against inequality, as well as a statement of the group’s place in popular culture. Pitchfork called the album, “the first time in their career that the entire group was at their peak.”
You could argue that Go Ahead In the Rain is the type of dream project that anyone who has ever felt immense fandom — or even love — for a particular music would want to write. It’s a tribute to a group, and who doesn’t enjoy explaining why their favorite should also be your favorite? But Abdurraqib earns the authority to actually pull it off, not just through his elegant writing but also by having the courage to use Tribe’s music to examine his own place in the world and reckon with what he discovered. Read more…