2016 was a year of hit-or-miss experimental albums, be it from Kanye’s “The Life of Pablo” to Bon Iver’s “22, A Million” fans were generally split down the middle in either loving or hating mainstream contemporary releases. From what I could tell, 2016 could have been a period of forgettable music yet, out of nowhere, A Tribe Called Quest woke up from their 20-year hibernation with the release of their new album “We Got It from Here...Thank You 4 Your Service.”
The album was critically acclaimed and full of sociopolitical commentary from the insane election year to the Black Lives Matter movement, garnished lightly with tributes to rapper Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor who passed away on March 22 of 2016 — in the middle of recording the album. Rumors began to spread that this would officially be the last Tribe album and, with that thought hanging around, I decided that it was now or never to finally see one of the most exalted rap collectives ever; at no better place than the famed Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado.
On Aug. 10, the remaining members of ATCQ (Kamaal “Q-Tip” Fareed, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White) took over the amphitheater and guided the audience on a sonic voyage through their entire discography. Over the course of the night, there were laughs and tears from the stage to the audience, notably halfway through an expansive 28- song set; lead musician Q-Tip stopped to speak to the audience to recall a memory he shared with the late Phife Dawg. Tip began to tear up and, before leaving the stage for a short intermission he announced, heavily, that this would be the collectives’ last show in Denver. Prior, he announced the same thing at their New York and California shows. These shows, perhaps the last few ATCQ would ever do in their career, made the whole experience just a bit more meaningful.
Sadly, this may not have been their best-performed show of the tour. It was apparent that their age had caught up with them. Here and there, both Q-Tip and Jarobi seemed out of breath and would occasionally miss a lyric or two (Music Editor’s Note: Talib Kweli had the same issue when opening for Pretty Lights, Red Rocks 2013 – elevation is tricky). But what I can say about them is that they were having the time of their lives. ATCQ’s music is famously quirky and goofy: it comes through during their performance with strong personality and the comical delivery of lyrics. It was a bittersweet experience to hear this legendary hip-hop collective perform songs like, “Can I Kick It,” “Bonita Applebum” and “Buggin’ Out” for the first and last time live.
Every track was performed passionately, and with great enthusiasm. And yet, there was clearly and open wound throughout the show left by Phife Dawg. His space on stage was filled by a lone microphone, which stood center stage in tribute to the late rapper. The mic would be lit up by a spot light whenever Phife’s voice was heard in a song.
To close off ATCQ’s last Denver show, their encore performance consisted of “Award Tour,” “Can I Kick It?” and “We the People...” During the encore, Q-Tip launched himself into the audience and gave a plethora of high-fives and hugs, turning his microphone over to whoever was closest to him so they could shout out a few song lyrics. And once Q-Tip was back on stage to perform “We the People...” he sparked a closing chant of “We the people” and “We are equal.”
As A Tribe Called Quest get closer and closer to finishing their brief comeback tour and, in turn, end their story with an incredible last performance, I can only count myself lucky enough to have been able to experience their historic music live and in person.
Colton Newman is a writer and photographer for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org