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#BackChannel: Dave Chappelle And A Tribe Called Quest Bring Politics To 'SNL'

An image of Dave Chappelle with members of A Tribe Called Quest Joribe White and Q-Tip
Rosalind O'Connor
In this Nov. 10, 2016 photo released by NBC, Jarobi White and Q-Tip of musical guest A Tribe Called Quest pose with host Dave Chappelle, center, on the television show, "Saturday Night Live," in New York.

After years of mostly staying out of the spotlight, comedian Dave Chappelle hosted NBC's  "Saturday Night Live" last week. Chappelle's opening monologue mirrored the stand-up comedy that helped make him famous more than a decade ago. Chappelle's jokes grappled with a Trump presidency.  
Host Frank Stasio talked with popular culture experts Mark Anthony Neal and Natalie Bullock Brown about the program:

“My feeling when I saw folks on social media afterwards, a lot of folks needed that moment, needed that break. Both in terms of Chappelle’s humor and a humor that also got what people were feeling in that moment. That’s what makes Dave Chappelle a comedic genius, his ability to do that,” Neal said.

“That was a moment when we needed to have that insight. We need that humor. We needed an opportunity to hear someone say what we have been feeling and thinking and that we didn’t necessarily have the platform to say,” Bullock Brown said.

ADVISORY: This video contains explicit language

During “Saturday Night Live,” the sketch “Election Night” showed host Dave Chappelle and guest star Chris Rock watching the presidential election results with a group of white friends.

“Oh my god, I think America is racist,” SNL actress Cecily Strong said during the sketch.

“Oh my god,” Chappelle nonchalantly responded. “You know, I remember my great-great grandfather told me something like that. But you know he was like a slave or something, I don’t know.”

Mark Anthony Neal said the sketch accurately portrayed reality for many people. “ There are a lot of black folks who were like, ‘Welcome to our lives.’ This is the kind of reality we’ve been living,” he said.

Chappelle was joined by musical guest A Tribe Called Quest for Saturday's program. Last week, the hip-hop group released their final album called "We got it from Here... Thank You 4 Your service." It’s the group’s first album in 18 years and follows the death of the group’s co-founder Phife Dawg earlier this year. “For me, Tribe is probably my last deep connection to hip-hop. It was magical to watch Tribe be on SNL,” Bullock Brown said. “Phife’s spirit was so much in what they were doing.”

Mark Anthony Neal agreed. “The album is so politically on point. In some ways more politically on point that any other A Tribe Called Quest album has been because they’ve never been heavy-handed,” he said. “They were not Public Enemy; they were trying to take a much more middle ground in their politics.”

Meanwhile, rapper Common's new album and short film "Black America Again" paints a poetic and nuanced take on black America. The short film was produced by Ava DuVernay. “I think the film is a beautiful portrait of black beauty, of black strength and resiliency. Common is so good at putting his finger on the pulse of what all of us are feeling,” Bullock Brown said.  “When he says, ‘Black mothers’ stomachs always in a knot,’ that is me. I walk around with that.”

“In both the album and film, what you see is the ways that Kendrick Lamar, Ava DuVernay and Beyonce have reordered the impulse of black popular culture, and Common is responding to all of them. He doesn’t make this album without him having this kind of connection to Ava DuVernay. It’s changed his practice,” Anthony Neal said.  “That’s why these figures are fundamentally important and the work they are doing in popular culture is fundamentally important.


Charlie Shelton-Ormond is a podcast producer for WUNC.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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