Like any good origin story, poet and critic Hanif Abdurraqib's Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest begins in the beginning: "In the beginning, somewhere south of anywhere I come from, lips pressed the edge of a horn.... In the beginning before the beginning, there were drums, and hymns, and a people carried here."
Abdurraqib unspools history from here, carrying the reader through centuries of African-American music-making in a capacious few pages that end with the 1990 release of A Tribe Called Quest's first album, People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm.
Go Ahead in the Rain is at once an extended critical essay, a hip-hop history, and a series of love letters to A Tribe Called Quest, and particularly to the group's two star MCs, Q-Tip and Phife Dawg. In his two previous books, The Crown Ain't Worth Much and They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us, Abdurraqib demonstrated his expertise at compressing massive emotions into minimal space. Here, he takes that skill up yet another notch. He has a seemingly limitless capacity to share what moves him, which means that to read Go Ahead in the Rain, you don't need to be a Tribe Called Quest fan: Abdurraqib will make you one. His love for the group is infectious, even when it breaks his heart.
The story of A Tribe Called Quest is, from a certain vantage, heartbreaking. From most, it's mythic. Childhood friends Q-Tip and Phife Dawg began rapping as high schoolers in Queens, using music "as a bridge to each other." By the time they were 25, they had become one of hip-hop's greatest groups. They rooted their sound in jazz like few rappers before them, creating a sound that both honored and transformed the past. They were crucial members of the Afrocentric hip-hop collective Native Tongues, and Q-Tip and producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad became two-thirds of The Ummah, a production collective that made songs for Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, and many more. Meanwhile, their own albums made them undisputed stars.