A Tribe Called Quest’s debut Saturday Night Live performance balanced the ebullient with the poignant; a bittersweet appearance that found the group enlisting Busta Rhymes and frequent Tribe Called Quest collaborator Consequence for the energetic “The Space Program” while paying tribute to deceased member Phife Dawg on “We the People.” Both cuts came from the band’s recently released surprise new album, We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, their first LP in 18 years.
“Ladies and gentlemen, at long last, make some noise for A Tribe Called Quest,” host Dave Chappelle said to thundering applause. Backed by producer-DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad, MCs Q-Tip and Jarobi White launched into “We the People,” a politically charged song that excoriates complacency in the face of xenophobia, racism and homophobia.
For Phife’s verse, the group unfurled a banner featuring the rapper’s face among a piece of art. The camera zoomed in on Phife as his verse played in the background, delivering a chilling effect to the song before Jarobi and Q-Tip danced their way back into the frame.
For the Willy Wonka-sampling “The Space Program,” Busta Rhymes and Consequence appeared sitting in the studio audience before going onstage to aid the group on the chorus (“Gotta get it together for brothers/Gotta get it together for sisters/For mothers and fathers and dead niggas/For non-conformers, won’t hear the quitters”).
A Tribe Called Quest released We Got It From Here, Thank You for Your Service on Friday. The album features Andre 3000, Jack White, Kendrick Lamar and Elton John and found Q-Tip and Phife Dawg mending their often-fractious relationship. ”I had no idea that his days was numbered,” Q-Tip told the New York Times. “I just want to celebrate him, you know.”