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American Music Series

Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest

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How does one pay homage to A Tribe Called Quest? The seminal rap group brought jazz into the genre, resurrecting timeless rhythms to create masterpieces such as The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders. Seventeen years after their last album, they resurrected themselves with an intense, socially conscious record, We Got It from Here . . . Thank You 4 Your Service, which arrived when fans needed it most, in the aftermath of the 2016 election. Poet and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib digs into the group's history and draws from his own experience to reflect on how its distinctive sound resonated among fans like himself. The result is as ambitious and genre-bending as the rap group itself.

Abdurraqib traces the Tribe's creative career, from their early days as part of the Afrocentric rap collective known as the Native Tongues, through their first three classic albums, to their eventual breakup and long hiatus. Their work is placed in the context of the broader rap landscape of the 1990s, one upended by sampling laws that forced a reinvention in production methods, the East Coast-West Coast rivalry that threatened to destroy the genre, and some record labels' shift from focusing on groups to individual MCs. Throughout the narrative Abdurraqib connects the music and cultural history to their street-level impact. Whether he's remembering The Source magazine cover announcing the Tribe's 1998 breakup or writing personal letters to the group after bandmate Phife Dawg's death, Abdurraqib seeks the deeper truths of A Tribe Called Quest; truths that--like the low end, the bass--are not simply heard in the head, but felt in the chest.

207 pages, Paperback

First published February 1, 2019

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About the author

Hanif Abdurraqib

24 books2,185 followers
Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio. His poetry has been published in Muzzle, Vinyl, PEN American, and various other journals. His essays and music criticism have been published in The FADER, Pitchfork, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. His first full length poetry collection, The Crown Ain't Worth Much, was released in June 2016 from Button Poetry. It was named a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Prize, and was nominated for a Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. With Big Lucks, he released a limited edition chapbook, Vintage Sadness, in summer 2017 (you cannot get it anymore and he is very sorry.) His first collection of essays, They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us, was released in winter 2017 by Two Dollar Radio and was named a book of the year by Buzzfeed, Esquire, NPR, Oprah Magazine, Paste, CBC, The Los Angeles Review, Pitchfork, and The Chicago Tribune, among others. He released Go Ahead In The Rain: Notes To A Tribe Called Quest with University of Texas press in February 2019. The book became a New York Times Bestseller, and was met with critical acclaim. His second collection of poems, A Fortune For Your Disaster, was released in 2019 by Tin House. He is a graduate of Beechcroft High School.

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5 stars
2,840 (57%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 704 reviews
Profile Image for Jessica Hopper.
Author 4 books174 followers
June 16, 2018
This book does so many things, and expands the frame of critical biography so crucially. Diving deep in to Tribe's history is only a part of what Hanif Abdurraqib does here -- where the book sings is all the context he adds to the story, about what it meant to love them, the spaces where their work illuminates and anchors his understanding of love, success, innovation, the inevitable, black enterprise. This work, much like his other books of critical essay and poetry invites the reader in. It's a rich, nuanced book that gloriously and irreverently disregards the form of how artist biography is supposed to arc and regards, and instead it lives and breathes as something more organic and familiar that is recognizable to anyone whose life has been shaped by fandom.
Profile Image for Lucy Dacus.
89 reviews12.5k followers
June 12, 2019
If only every writer approached their subjects with the generosity, humility, respect, and honesty that Hanif does.
Profile Image for Jak Krumholtz.
468 reviews5 followers
January 31, 2019
When this book arrived Monday I sent a pic of my daughter holding it to my sister that introduced me to Hanif’s writing. I said sometimes fans can’t wait until drop dates. Tuesday I was home sick and played Tribe’s whole discography for comfort. It’s Wednesday now and I just finished it. Shift your plans Friday and go get this.

Abdurraqib released my favorite book of 2018.

He may have just done it in 2019.

Profile Image for Jerrie.
985 reviews127 followers
September 22, 2019
Abdurraqib is a very gifted writer. With amazing elegance and verve, he weaves the story of the early rap group A Tribe Called Quest with observations on race and culture. The group was an important part of his childhood. There are aspects of memoir as well when he relates how the group’s music impacted him at pivotal points in his youth. I am not a music lover and certainly don’t listen to much rap, but the language and passion of the author kept me rapt. 4.5⭐️
Profile Image for Annie.
120 reviews9 followers
February 3, 2019
not trying to be all "hanif is the premier music critic of our time" or anything but "hanif is the premier music critic of our time"
Profile Image for chantel nouseforaname.
624 reviews304 followers
May 6, 2019
I'm not crying. I swear. I'm. Not. Crying... I..I.. just have something in my eye.

Yo, Hanif Abdurraqib is a BRILLIANT writer. He really knows how to put you into his life. He fits you right in there with his schoolyard friends. He fits you right in there with him playing the trumpet in his bedroom as a young boy. He fits you right in there with the tape decks and the cd players. You really get into his head and his exploration of music, but he always leaves a little mystery. You get into his life and you can see it with the way that he writes, he paints pictures so clearly and in such a poetic manner.

Really it just shocks me how seamlessly Hanif weaves in his personal stories into the life and legend of ATCQ or any music that he’s talking about. I recently-ish read his previous effort, They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us, which was a 5-star effort and realized that the man is a genius-level music writer. In Go Ahead in the Rain, Hanif's illuminations of learning about what it meant to be cool from the perspective of the uncool and how cool people don't know they're cool but still change the game, shook me. I really liked how he illuminated the ups and downs, highs and lows of brotherhood and what it means to be a friend and stick together and how not all the people who are talented and who create waves get accredited through popular channels, but they're accredited in the communities they helped create and develop. I also liked how he broke down that Tip, Phife, Ali and Jarobi are just huge nerds who like to experiment with music and create fun shit filled with inside jokes, but how much hard work goes into that and who really rides when it's time to go for gold. It all really got to me.

As much as Hanif's ability to draw you in is a gift, it's also a curse. Being that this is a love letter to A Tribe Called Quest, it was bound to border on the inappropriate at points. All love letters are slightly inappropriate. I hate even using the word "inappropriate" - but yo, real talk - this book felt mad inappropriate at times; let me get into it. There are moments where he's talking to Phife's mother via his letter format asking questions that as a fan/friend, it's hard to digest due to the question's personal nature. Personal on both sides, personal from Hanif's point of view and personal from an inquiring minds point of view. You know she's going to read it and it felt real personal; and yeah she okie doke'd it, and I don't want to reduce it to the fanboy nature of things, but it really felt too personal for someone's mom's real life. It felt really fucked up to me due to the fact that yeah we may feel like we know a lot about our favourite artists, but do we? Can we? Should we? Reaching out to their parents, etc. etc. to share what that person meant to you, it can be difficult and invasive on so many levels and maybe I'm just taking it to a level; I mean, maybe I'm taking it in some type of way. But it didn't sit right with me.

Yes, it is a personal story, a love letter, and yes he's pouring his heart out - but I mean, I don't know. It seems like a fine line is walked here and only the brave walk it. On a relational level; I really struggled with the passing of one of my best friends, and that person was my best friend, not just someone I heard about, they directly greatly influenced my life. At their untimely passing, I had so many questions, so many things I wanted to say to his family. Did I? There are some boundaries that you try to maintain out of respect and not interjecting your own shit into someone else's pain. It will feel uncomfortable to do so. But that's just me; there are people willing to go above and beyond that call; because it means something to them to do so; something different on a different type of level and you can see that's what this book is, but it doesn't make it any less uncomfortable at those points.

Hanif's ability to be candid and intimate with his inquisitions was something I loved and hated; maybe because I was too afraid to do it at points in my own life, trying to reserve something, preserve the feelings of others, I don't know.. that's what troubled me about the book but also what I found brave and beautiful and intriguing and apart of what makes Hanif such a great writer. It made me cry when he wrote to Phife's mother. It made me cry when he wrote about how the snub for Thank You 4 Your Service hit Tip on an emotional level because his heart wasn't all that into performing at the Grammys or on stage without his friend, his brother, the five foot assassin, right there beside him; but he did, and they got snubbed and it hurt. It brought about so many different kinds of pain; the pain of growing apart from family, growing in different directions from friends, which all of us have before.. it illustrated how growing apart from someone can affect those left behind when that person has departed from this life.

Overall, Hanif Abdurraqib carved out a space for his story, directly relatable to Tribe's music and also completely fitting of the juxtaposition of the group and their impact on an era of music. For some people, telling a story about a band/group that crisscrosses your own personal life history would be a fatal writing flaw because it would be easily susceptible to many lazy writing traps: giving too much over to your own self-interests, straying too far from the base, but for Hanif that is absolutely never the case. It’s what makes his writing magnetic, in my opinion. He’s the kind of music writer, music writers should aspire to be.

I love how he delved into the history and importance of having a crew. I love that he gave us some backstory on the formation and influence of the Native Tongues as a unit and on each rapper that joined during that period of time. I love that he doesn’t disparage anyone, including those who could definitely be disparaged. I love how much he clearly highlighted the talent of the influential femcees present in those days and times.

Go Ahead in the Rain, the shit was powerful, it was mesmerizing, it took you on a journey through the origins of hip hop's fab 4. It really brought you into Hanif's evolution and understanding of the role that A Tribe Called Quest played in his life and the lives of so many. I really felt the magic of the words here. There were beautiful segments where he talks to each artist directly and it's hard-hitting to read but he doesn't pull any punches; he really gets into his emotional bag with this one. It's a fantastic read.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,121 reviews
February 11, 2019
This book was everything I wanted from a music history and has really got me thinking about writing about music. I've been feeling dreamy all week thinking about this book, made a playlist for it on Google Play (Abdurraqib said he made a playlist on Spotify of songs sampled by Tribe, so you should definitely check that out), and wish now that Abdurraqib could write all history for me. This was great, too, because I think I may be a hair older than the author, but we're essentially the same age, so it was cool to get his take on things as someone who came of age in the same era. Anywho, if you love music, love reading about music, love Tribe, are only a little familiar with Tribe, have no idea who Tribe is, love history and social commentary, love memoir, love beautiful writing...this book is for you.
Profile Image for Jimmy.
511 reviews695 followers
February 21, 2022
I love reading reviews on Goodreads because they're not professional reviews. That means they're entangled with memories, hopes, expectations, flaws. The personal lives of the reviewer often adds to my understanding of a book, of how a book could appeal to certain people. Often I will love a review of a book I have absolutely no intention of reading because I'm more intrigued by the review than the book.

This book approaches music journalism in much the same way as my favorite reviews. Hanif Abdurraqib is one of my favorite writers thanks to his They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us, which I read last year. Then I learned that this book existed, an entire book on one musical group, A Tribe Called Quest, and I realized it's one of those books that I absolutely would not have read if I didn't already love the author, since I didn't know or care much about ATCQ (I do now). But because it was Abdurraqib, and because I knew he is never afraid to invite us into his world, I knew this would be about so much more than one musical group, and I was right. His personal connection with ATCQ and his passion for them is what drew me in and what makes this book special.

Abdurraqib is such a good writer that he makes me wish all music journalism was as impassioned, as brave and unafraid to branch out from the strictly musical to the broader world of where that music came from, the streets and culture where the music takes on new meaning. Throughout this book, I was taken not only through the journey of one hip hop group's rise and fall, but also the neighborhoods where Abdurraqib grew up, the language of Jet magazines, Kool-Aid, and Knicks games. This book is like a mix-tape. Each song is infused with more meaning because of who made it and the thought behind it. This is such a personal book that also admirably broadens to a time and place.

I did feel that Abdurraqib falls a little bit into sentimentality and repetition at points that he doesn't fall into in his other book, but these are minor gripes. I loved this book and want to read everything he wrote, and you should too.
Profile Image for Darryl Suite.
481 reviews350 followers
November 24, 2019
Have you ever read a book that seems like it was tailor-made for you? This is that book for me. I'm in love. This had everything I'm looking for in a book; a gift for my music-obsessed heart and mind. I walked away with a greater appreciation for the rap group A Tribe Called Quest, who I already stanned. But that's not all it provided; this book was filled with hard-hitting and tell-it-like-is social commentary, told with stimulating and delicious prose. The author's previous essay collection 'They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us' is one of the best books I've read this year. Go Ahead in the Rain is not too far behind. *Stunned*
Profile Image for Royal.
2 reviews
January 25, 2019
The tiny yet mighty "to" gives the book a great deal of its magic. The "to" is the difference between reading a wonderfully written biography of A Tribe Called Quest and reading this book. This book is an intimate conversation overheard, a love letter found, a confession, a confrontation, a monument, and an ode in addition to being a wonderfully written biography of A Tribe Called Quest. Hanif talks to ATCQ across time and through impassable thresholds in a manner as earnest as it is trenchant.

Hanif's deft layering of contexts situates the reader in the room where the crew reunites to reminisce, recapping and revealing new glimpses into what happened all those years ago. After learning about earlier approaches to sampling from this book, I can situate Hanif's world-building in that lineage. Hanif gives us a trajectory and analysis of A Tribe Called Quest and its impact while contextualizing the music trends, social climate, political events, and his own experience. The book has a noticeable rhythm to it, which felt both right and necessary.
Profile Image for Sarah Booth.
391 reviews40 followers
September 19, 2020
I got this book from an audible.com sale because listening to the provided snippet had a lot of fascinating things to say about music. Having not being a rap or hip hop fan at all, I gave it a try and discovered something richly imbued with jazz, story, growing up in the 70s and 80s and message. I've recently started listening to A Tribe Called Quests album "People's instinctive Travels" and have been really enjoying it. Weird for a middle aged white woman, but it you keep your mind open you can find some fascinating things that you just might like. Abdurraqib is a fabulous writer. He could probably write about clipping one's toenails and make it interesting and relevant. The book is a love poem to a band and an education in music. I really enjoyed this book and it's so far from my usual choice of reading material that it would seem a bad bet, but you can't mess with brilliance.
Profile Image for Jeff.
211 reviews9 followers
February 13, 2019
“We are nothing if not for our histories”

It’s like reading someone’s personal journal. As the writing is so open full of love, hope and fear. While dissecting what the subject means to them. His prose like poetry.

The book is exactly what the title promises. Notes and letters. How each facet has theory or defining moment.

Even if just a casual fan of the group or itms songs and albums. This book spells out illustriously how important they are to the writer, hip-hop, culture and the community in large. It cements their legend and strength m. Offers a dissection of sorts that delves into the philosophical impression also the way the writer makes anything personal and also philosophical and how he connects the dots through it al.

As he relays his stories and memories it reminds us of the songs and bring many of our own memories to mind. When things were easier, simpler and music was our currency and language of sorts growing up. Saying the things we either wanted to say or teaching us things we wanted

It shows for some critics and fans This is holy their own religion almost. Truly how they relate to the world and how an examination of what they love or obsess over helps them find themselves and helps define them.

The book is insanely quotable

How much work went into how starting mixing messages, opinions and theory with the music of others as support to stand on. Full of creativity, emotions and outlooks. How the songs were like the gospel and spirituals to the world with some punchlines to keep some of it fun and light while others heavy.

How it graduated to them making their own beats and music. Taking ownership of their sound and finding their own identity

This book offers not only a Breakdown of what the music means and meant to them. Not to mention how it might have affected the audience at large. Decoding it and it’s language as well as facts and theories melding them all together. As a biography of sorts that comes across as a love letter full of intellect and emotion.

How what seems so simple, so easy for some will have others obsessed with how they did it and how many it will affect.

Strong enough to change lives and decisions and it’s only supposed to be for entertainment and enjoyment. Maybe most don’t get caught up or taken it as seriously
Profile Image for Jolene.
Author 1 book19 followers
September 27, 2019
It turns out this book wasn't for me, which I should have expected when I jumped on the bandwagon. I'm into Hanif Abdurraqib, and I love learning about pop culture history, but I also knew basically nothing about A Tribe Called Quest before reading this book.

That said, if you're at all interested in the history of rap music, you'll get something out of it. Personally, I enjoyed Adurraqib's prose -- his poetic celebrations of hip hop and rap, especially in connection to protest and community-building. The asides about music award shows and police brutality and grief and the changing nature of close friendships make this a powerful listen, even for those unfamiliar with A Tribe Called Quest's legacy.

They're definitely on my rotating playlist now though.

First line: "In the beginning, from somewhere south of anywhere I come from, lips pressed the edge of a horn, and a horn was blown."
Profile Image for Bonnie G..
1,257 reviews179 followers
July 8, 2022
A fascinating twining together of the history of Tribe, the history of rap and of Black music more broadly, the history of Abdurraqib, and the history of America. The language here is spectacular, Abdurraqib's music knowledge is encyclopedic, and this man can write. This is a deeply personal book that ends up being an exploration of what it means, to be a Black man, of all the different forms that can take while still sharing so many commonalities. I thought it dragged in the middle a bit and never regained the energy of the first half (which was unbelievably good) but it was still excellent.
Profile Image for Richard Noggle.
153 reviews4 followers
February 11, 2019

Hanif's new book is a solid fusion of cultural criticism (as he works his way through Tribe's discography, influence, and dissolution) and personal reflection (as he charts his own relationship to Tribe's music and what it's meant to him over the years, complete with moving letters where he addresses Q-Tip and Phife directly). It's perhaps a little stronger in the latter than the former, and Hanif's digressive tendencies occasionally lose me, but I can't wait for his fourth book.
Profile Image for Jessica.
20 reviews5 followers
March 21, 2020
On rhythm, brotherhood, and underdogs.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I put this book down. And I’m still not sure if it’s a love letter or an elegy. Perhaps because it flows with chronology it’s both. But even then, the word « chronology » falls short. There’s too much aggregation, by which I mean lineage, inheritance—something we now refer to as « culture. »

I am sure that it has some of the best opening pages I’ve read. And that there’s sweetness and soundtracks and solidarity. There are ideas about language as instrument, the genius of sampling, even some underlying afrofuturism. Then there’s the question he always returns to—what really is the “low end?” And have we even reached it yet? That, I’m not ruining for you.

There’s also dichotomy outside of generic ambiguity. It’s most obviously personified through Phife and Q, and meditations about the space to do your own thing and the confines of holding it all on your shoulders. There’s a love for bridge building, whether it’s across generations or coasts.

But it’s not just the letters of bereavement to Phife and Tribe that make me question the eulogic aspect of this book. Albums are almost characters in and of themselves. And what first seems like love letters—on community and finding your place in it—turns into eulogies (or tributes? Homages?) on something now lost to the immediacy of streaming services.

If I’m being honest, Tribe was never a favorite. I’ve always been one of those « I prefer Pharcyde » types. But coming to this book out of curiosity and not as a fan ((and falling completely in love with it)) attests to this author’s magic. He’s managed to create something poetic, political, cultural, historiographical, anthropological, and on and on. So, I’ll give it to him—Tribe was ahead of their time sonically. Phife was a poet. And hip hop, rap, jazz, and everything in between is inherited.

It’s not easy to immortalize a person, let alone the intangible. And with all the flowers in A Fortune for Your Disaster, I’m tempted to say this is Hanif’s bouquet.
Profile Image for Joe.
88 reviews10 followers
February 26, 2019
I finished the A Tribe Called Quest book on the bus going to work this morning. I cried a little bit.
I walked past a bar on the way home from work today. A Tribe Called Quest was playing.
I cried a little bit.

For every generation, there are usually only a handful of bands that can truly be described as the proverbial "the only band that matters." And, in the 90s, one of that handful was A Tribe Called Quest. And in his fantastic book GO AHEAD IN THE RAIN, poet Hanif Abdurraqib captures those never-to-be repeated heady days "..when I was a teenager/before I had status and before I had a pager." I loved this book and I cried with this book. RIP Phife Dawg.
Profile Image for Phil Overeem.
634 reviews17 followers
April 11, 2019
I checked it out of the local library. It is so good I am buying a copy to keep close. Among the many things Abdurraqib pierces the bullseye on, the eerie and perfect arrival of the final ATCQ album is explored with eerie and perfect grace.
171 reviews4 followers
September 11, 2022

You could feel how much the author loved the band and rap/hip hop in general in a true, smart, and poetic way. I know a little of Tribe's music and had a similar level of familiarity with a lot of the music Abdurraqib talked about, but I was (and still am) far from a real scholar about it. Even so, the book was enjoyable and interesting.

I audiobooked this and listened to a whole lot of it while sectioning brains. It was a really beautiful experience. This cryostat was a new-to-me machine and it always takes a while to get the hang of how they handle. Go Ahead was buoying during the frustrating start. Then, when things got rolling, the beauty of a (well-sectioned) brain section combined with the beauty of Abdurraqib's writing. Just an incredible vibe. Seriously, have you ever seen a brain section? Have you ever heard someone talk so beautifully about something they love? INCREDIBLE.

One thing I'll note, I wouldn't necessarily recommend reading this in as all-in-one go fashion as I did. I think this happens with almost all essay collections I've read, but it can get repetitive. Essays are typically written as separate bits then stitched together. There are things you need to re-intro or re-contextualize in the segment in which it appears. It's totally expected and reasonable and would be so helpful if I hadn't read the previous part, like, a couple hours ago.
Profile Image for Shawn.
92 reviews7 followers
January 21, 2023
An excellent love letter to one of hip hop's greatest groups. This is a dynamic and deeply personal mix of poetry, personal essay, history lesson, and album appreciation. I absolutely loved the sections that put Tribe's music in context in its relationship to other rap artists, pop culture, and the political landscape of its time. I've been a fan of these folks since I was a teenager, listening to my new copy of their first album through the tape deck in my car while driving around in a small town in Wyoming, so I was able to really relate to the author's reminiscing about how listening to cassettes on his Walkman solidified his lifelong love for the music of Tip and Phife and the crew. Highly recommended for lovers of recorded music, no matter the genre. One of the highlights of my 2023 reading challenge: 50 books about hip hop culture during the 50th year of its existence.
Profile Image for K.
269 reviews3 followers
January 1, 2020
The best music criticism I have read in a long time. This book is both a basic history of "Golden Age" hip hop from the 1990s and a deeply personal meditation on what it means to be an invested fan over the course of a group’s tenure. There were times when I was moved to tears while reading, and I don't think I have ever responded to music criticism in that way. Considering how vehemently some musicians and fans have turned on music criticism in recent years (to the point of unleashing a twitter mob if a critic does their job), I hope that this book can show a way forward. This book made me wish that music scholarship could return to the intimacy that has thus far only animated certain corners of ethnomusicology and queer music studies. We have a lot to learn from Hanif Abdurraqib. I can’t wait to read others in this exciting new series.
Profile Image for soup.
7 reviews
August 2, 2022
I was moved. If you have any sort of interest in Tribe's music, you should read this. I was marking pages to come back to later and show to my brothers, listening to old songs, wiki-ing things.. Even if you don't listen to Tribe, read this. It's so well written.

Five stars
Profile Image for Sentimental Surrealist.
293 reviews48 followers
August 16, 2022
Full disclosure: I am a big-time dork for the early ‘90s east coast boom bap sound, especially if it’s heavy on jazz samples, since I’m also a big-time dork for jazz. This, of course, means I’m a big-time dork for A Tribe Called Quest. The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders can go toe-to-toe with Illmatic and Enter the Wu-Tang and Stress: The Extinction Agenda and The Infamous and... shit, you name it. I’ll even stick up for Beats, Rhymes, & Life.

I also love a very specific type of music writing, one I don’t see often. Obviously I don’t mean the Billboard puff pieces that’ll praise a song for its “club feel” or something similarly meaningless. What’s more, I’m not talking about the standard-issue Rolling Stone/VH1 stuff, which comes off like hagiography and tends to place musicians in museums. A Rolling Stone writer can tell me that the Who got the crowd to stand up at Woodstock, but can they tell me what the Who mean to them? Their personal history with the band, their experience with them, the exact appeal? So much writing about music plays at a certain objectivity, but I’m not in it for that, because of how easily it reduces to a series of dull bullet points. The Who had four guys in the band, they sold this many records, they did rock operas and famous live shows, Pete Townshend got into spirituality and synthesizers Keith Moon blew his drums up onstage that one time. Ok, fine, but what do you feel when you listen to the music?

I’m also a big fan of Hanif Abdurraqib. Did I bury the lede there or what? Regardless, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us is one of the most moving books about music I’ve ever read. I mean, I was moved by an essay about My Chemical Romance, and I don’t even like that band. Abdurraqib is skillful at weaving it all together: the sound and story of the band, his own experience listening to them and how this experience ties to his own life, and the bigger sociological questions - less Woodstock myth, more Black Lives Matter reality. He gives you the full picture. The music, his own life, the currents of history swirling around him. The total effect is terrific; he and Jessica Hopper are my two favorite people currently writing about music, maybe even my two favorite music critics ever. I guess what I’m saying is these three factors form like Voltron, if you don’t mind me mixing my classic east coast rap crews, into a book that I was predisposed to love before I even picked it up.

And love it I did, although I have a complaint. A certain Midnight Marauders skit informs us that A Tribe Called Quest has four members. Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi. A, E, I, O, U. And sometimes Y. Tip and Phife get plenty of recognition in this book. Jarobi is barely a footnote, but that made sense to me, since the dude was barely even a member. His first verse on a Quest album was on 2016’s We Got It Here, if that gives you a sense. But Ali Shaheed Muhammad, who stuck around from the beginning and who worked alongside Q-Tip in the producers’ booth, remains a cypher through the book. You get a strong sense of Tip’s and Phife’s difficult relationship: how Tip had to at first drag the teenage Phife into the studio (it’s why he barely appears on People’s Travels), how Phife pushed himself on the next two albums to match Tip and turned in some of the all-time great rap verses in the process (see “We Can Get Down” and “Check the Rhime” for the most famous examples), how Tip’s increasing ambition left Phife feeling sidelined and probably broke the up the band. Yet I wanted to know where Muhammad stood in all this. Was he happy to create beats alongside Q-Tip, happy to follow the man’s direction? Did he feel any burning ambition of his own? Granted, this book doesn’t present itself as a biography of Quest, but I feel like this was a bit of a missed opportunity.

Other than that, though? Goddamn. Abdurraqib pulls off a skillful balancing act throughout this book. He’s always honest about Quest’s work; how he feels about the individual albums, what they mean to him, the fact that he didn’t feel Beats, Rhymes & Life and The Love Movement as much as the first three. On the other hand, he gives you a good sense of the albums; where the group was at mentally when they made them, the frictions that powered their early work and led them to a premature breakup, the way the public responded to them, the way the group members (Phife especially) grew and changed as their music did. This is what separates the best writing about music from the worst: Abdurraqib’s considered subjectivity, informed and yet always honest.

The comedian Scott Aukerman has a great quote. I’m probably going to mangle it, but it goes a little something like this. “It’s always beautiful when someone shows you part of your soul.” There’s a lot of truth to that, and it’s what Abdurraqib does here. He gives you a look into his love of the group, and with it, the forces that shaped his appreciation for the music. You don’t even have to like rap to like this book. Though, I mean, it definitely helps.
13 reviews1 follower
March 4, 2019
A very good book.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Laura.
170 reviews
April 24, 2021
I loved this book! I love A Tribe Called Quest!!!!

I will now read everything this author has written because his writing style is addictive, beautiful, and imaginative. I don’t know how to explain my feelings, but this book felt like a giant hug to me.
Profile Image for Dani.
109 reviews
February 9, 2019
Knowing A Tribe Called Quest’s music beforehand is not a prerequisite to reading this book. Hanif Abdurraqib is the most beautiful writer, and it’s impossible to not be moved and engaged by this “love letter to a group, a sound, an an era.”
Profile Image for Kusaimamekirai.
647 reviews215 followers
April 24, 2019
Back in the days when I was a teenager.
Before I had status and before I had a pager

Some books you don’t know you need until it’s in your hand and you get lost in it. Lost in how it speaks to you of your youth, collaboration and community, friendship and sometimes its dissolution, and sometimes just singing something simply for the pure joy it brings you.
All these things are what A Tribe Called Quest meant to me as a high school student and it is also what it meant Hanif Abdurraqib.
In his love letter to the band, “Go Ahead in the Rain”, Abdurraqib goes back 25 years ago when the band was formed. He does a wonderful job of chronicling what the hiphop landscape of the early 90’s and Tribe’s unique place in it. If this were all he did it would still be a fascinating look at a fascinating time. What makes this book extraordinary however is just how personal it is.
Abdurraqib intersperses these historical segments with information about the group and most importantly, his letters to them. He writes to each member individually in a manner that belies the fact that he has never met them. And yet, he feels he has known them all his life. His joy in their groundbreaking first three albums (I love how he talks about the sensation he felt when a Tribe cassette came to an end with a satisfying click. A feeling I had almost forgotten but experienced myself so often on my beat-up Tribe cassettes where the title track on one, skipped halfway through. I wouldn’t hear the complete song until many, many years later), his anger at the group’s frontman Q-Tip when the band broke up and he laid the blame at his doorstep, the solo albums (with the exception of Q-Tip’s, now almost universally forgotten) that marked milestones in his life, and a touching letter to the mother of original member Phife Dawg, who died way too young in 2015.
His writing here is raw, passionate and full of love and appreciation for a group that defined his youth.
Perhaps one needs to be a fan of Tribe in the early 90’s to fully appreciate what Abdurraqib is trying to express here. As someone who was, and experienced waves of memory rushing back at me with each page, I too wanted to express my appreciation for what this group meant to me.
While you don’t have to be a lifelong fan to appreciate the beauty of Abdurraqib’s writing (it is magnificent), if you are, this book will take you back to, if not a simpler time, a time where endless possibilities laid in front of you and the music was sublime.
Profile Image for yana.
103 reviews4 followers
February 23, 2021
Hanif Abdurraqib has done it again. His previous book of essays, They Can't Kill Us Till They Kill Us, blew me away, creating a tough act to follow. Who knew that a collection of music reviews, some of bands I don't even know or don't enjoy, could be so moving? So I was excited to see what he'd do w/ this tribute to A Tribe Called Quest, a band I grew up with and who fill me with nostalgia, but not one I'd call myself a fanatic of. At the beginning, I wasn't sure he'd pulled it off. It felt a little less personal & a little less powerful; a little more straightforwardly rooted in the progression of their albums & sounds, yet also a little meandering. I enjoyed learning more about the band's history, but wasn't captivated. There were chapters written as letters to members of the band, and I wasn't sure it worked. However, about a third or half way through the book, something shifted. I think it was around the death of bandmember Phife Dawg, that things took a much more intimate turn and it pulled me in again just like his last book had. Suddenly there were more stories about Abdurraqib's own childhood, family, relationships. The tangents increased in frequency but also became the heart of the story, or if not the heart at least a solid ribcage. The personal anecdotes enveloped the facts about the band in a cocoon of warmth and melancholy. His writing about the music itself became more interesting -- maybe because by the later albums there was more critique mixed in with the adoration. One of Abdurraqib's many talents is that he can pinpoint such precise and detailed criticisms of a song or album's weaknesses, while still showering it with sincere affection for what it does accomplish or its place in the world. He can elevate the high points without sugar-coating or glossing over the failures. By the end of the book, I felt like I'd been in a room with the bandmembers, felt their tensions, their anger, their frustrations and their love. And I felt like I knew Abdurraqib a bit better as well. He writes of how one of the beauties of cassette tapes, as compared to CDs or online music streaming, was that it was a pain to fast forward or skip around -- the format really encouraged you to listen from start to finish, hear the product as a whole. I'm glad I stuck w/ this album to the end.
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