One of the best books I’ve read this year is Go Ahead In The Rain: Notes To A Tribe Called Quest by poet and music writer Hanif Abdurraqib. To say I read the book is a bit inaccurate – I devoured it, finishing its 206 pages in a matter of days.
As the title suggests, the book is an ode to seminal 1990s New York rap group A Tribe Called Quest, comprised of rappers Q-Tip and the late Phife Dawg, as well as producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad. In the book, Abdurraqib places Tribe in a lineage of black music, delving into their cultural and musical significance.
My love of hip-hop is well-documented throughout the columns I’ve published in this paper, but I didn’t always feel that way. After a brief and limited dalliance with rap in high school, I’d written the music off in favour of indie rock acts like Jimmy Eat World and Death Cab for Cutie.
In my early twenties, I began to dabble again, starting off with Christian hip-hop by Lecrae before digging into more mainstream acts. A Tribe Called Quest was instrumental in bridging the gap from religious rap to the rest of the genre.
The first time I downloaded “Can I Kick It?” from Tribe’s debut album People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, it was a revelation – the sample of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” the heavy jazz influence, rapper Q-Tip’s distinct nasally flow.
At the time, I mistook the lyrics as “clean” and “safe,” and I began seeking out more – I bought the group’s greatest hits album, and tried to find more rap with a jazz element. This initiated a snowball effect, where every discovery led me to another artist, another album, until soon, the entire history of hip-hop opened up before me.
All that to say, A Tribe Called Quest is an important group to me. They are foundational to my fandom – so much so that I shelled out a lot of money to buy limited edition Tribe-branded Vans a few years ago.
And yet, Abdurraqib’s book shook me. His incredibly personal reflections on the group – often written as letters to the members – left me questioning the sincerity of my fandom, while simultaneously reinforcing it. I’ve never had that experience reading before.
It’s beautiful to hear someone expound on the things they love. Even if you don’t share that affection, it piques your interest, and it transports you to a new appreciation of something you perhaps hadn’t previously considered. That’s how I felt upon finishing Abdurraqib’s book, and I’m incredibly grateful.