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Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC

In a time for healing, America got it from Dave Chappelle & A Tribe Called Quest.

Saturday night, conflict reigned supreme. America had worn a 50-state wide schism on its face due to the 2016 Presidential Election. Few felt comfortable enough to walk outside, few felt the dread and uneasiness of enjoying the so-called freedoms you inherit the moment you become a citizen. The ugliness brought on by Donald Trump winning on Tuesday night will be felt for months, if not the entirety of his presidency. America needed to heal. Or at least to laugh through some of the tears.

America has found shining moments to erode a large sense of doom and frustration. There was April 5, 1968. Twenty years before I was born, James Brown saved Boston from a riot. Dr. Martin Luther King had been assassinated the night prior in Memphis, a stain upon a country which would endure its most tumultuous year since The Great Depression. As its famously been remembered by historians and others, Brown quelled an arena filled of tense people. Hurt people. Scarred and scared people. Regardless of his politics, Brown urged that the people of Boston find calm in the hours of chaos. There was Mike Piazza hitting a home run for the New York Mets in the first sporting event in New York post 9/11.

In times of despair, America seeks a return to normalcy. Electing Donald Trump from a platform of xenophobia, racism and misogyny? Half of America couldn’t find the rationality to it. There’s no normalizing this particular President unless you wear the rosiest of GOP glasses.  Protests, hate crimes, America felt cracks and pains not felt since the 1960s, if not ever. It needed a distraction. Someone to steer them back into a world where laughter is as much a cure as it is a reflex to shield the pain.

It got Dave Chappelle & A Tribe Called Quest to achieve both.

America needed to heal. Or at least to laugh through some of the tears.

Saturday Night Live made a gambit by booking Chappelle, 11 years removed from leaving his own perch on the comedy mountain for it’s post-election show. It doubled down on their choice by adding A Tribe Called Quest, them 18 years removed from even releasing an album, much less liking one another. Saturday was in a way, a night for public reconciliation.  For Chappelle, it was walking back into the limelight, the one he bolted from for the sake of his soul in 2005. For Tribe, it was catharsis for losing its glue, its every man in Phife Dawg earlier this year.

The likely notion was getting Chappelle & Tribe to play ball. Both entities had found themselves twisted into parallel narratives, one they’ve even bonded over for the past two decades. The way Q-Tip, Ali, Phife & Jarobi circumnavigated their own path to become critical and generational darlings, the same could be said of Chappelle. They are both shrews, geniuses that focus upon the discomfort of society and invert it to shine a light. The first three ATCQ albums showed their maturation from kids creating love songs and playful non de plums (“Bonita Applebum”) to discussing safe sex, double standards, the record industry and more. What synergy was made from childhood friends Q-Tip & Phife Dawg translated onto stage and in their work. Midnight Marauders is them finding their edge and never letting up from it. Losing sight of it is what forced their mid-90s demise. It took what turned to be the final days of Phife to bring it all back together.

For Chappelle, the quirky D.C. comic who constantly found a way to burrow his way beyond a fork in a road, his zenith came a decade after Tribe’s. Chappelle’s Show lasted two seasons but it was set up mainly by his 2000 stand-up special, Killing Them Softly. There is a Low End Theory quality about how deadly serious Chappelle was within the jokes. A quip about police brutality made iconic characters out of a fictitious  Chip that we all knew. A trip to Sesame Street was his irreverent version of “Buggin’ Out”. What genius lay within Chappelle, it became full bloom by the time the world met Clayton Bigsby, Black White Supremacist. It’s still the most important sketch in Chappelle’s Show history because of its outrageous premise and even smarter execution. Race and Chappelle have always held up a mirror to one another. Dave wasn’t going to conform to simple approaches as “white people do this, black people do this”. He was going to invert situations to showcase hypocrisy. Tron Carter getting treated like a white collar criminal compared to a white exec run through the judicial system? All Chappelle. When he left in 2005 amidst the swirling noise of people laughing far too audibly at the wrong material, he left with a greater conscience. His stand-up routines in the years since have still been sharp, if not as sharper as they were a decade ago.

©2016/Will Heath/NBC

Will Heath/NBC

Chappelle wasn’t going to become a fame monster. America elected a fame monster for President

Chappelle is in his mid-40s now. In his early 30s, his public creative peak, he felt the flames of celebrity at his feet. Too much power, the wrong things being fed and nourished. He wasn’t going to become a fame monster. A decade later, America elected a fame monster for President.  And America, whether it realized it or not was looking at Chappelle to lead them through the difficult realization of such a thing.

“We’ve actually elected an internet troll as our President,” Chappelle said in his opening monologue.  The words followed Kate McKinnon, dressed in her Hillary Clinton garb paying lip service not just to the former Secretary of State but also tribute to the late Leonard Cohen. “Hallelujah” felt somber, frigid even. Chappelle warmed it up and continued to do so throughout the night. In an Election 2016 sketch, he sat around white liberals completely oblivious to the monster that the white working class amongst other voting blocs had trumpeted as its next leader. He was the only black man in the room for a time, until fellow king of skewering society and social commentary Chris Rock joined him.

The sketch may have been too on the head, two black men aware of the audacity of it all while whites wanted to disbelieve every word. Once he led in his Walking Dead / Chappelle’s Show crossover, the feeling had been set. The first 45 minutes of Saturday Night Live felt specifically like a proper goodbye to Chappelle’s Show. Social commentary through the lens of anyone? Checked from the monologue all the way through “Kids Talk Trump” featuring Dave’s daughter Sonal. A musical accompaniment that surveyed the scene and was touch perfect? Tribe performing “The Space Program” and “We The People” from We Got It From Here … Thank You 4 Your Service.

The night served as their goodbye as well. A Tribe Called Quest won’t ever be whole again with Phife’s untimely demise. But the reconciliation that started last year on Fallon led to the creation of this final album. It feels urgent; a necessary detour from the world. Phife may be gone but he speaks through Tip all over it. According to Jarobi, the Trini Gladiator may have accelerated his death by pushing his body to finish the album. “He wouldn’t have wanted it any other way ,” Jarobi told The New York Times. He was right. If America needed to heal and attempt to understand itself Saturday, Tribe and Chappelle had undertaken it themselves years prior. Phife sacrificed his life to regain the feeling of doing what he did best with his best friend and brothers. In the end, it ultimately gave the world something to find peace and happiness in.

Lorne Michaels won Saturday night. FCC fines be damned, the post-election episode scored a 6.2 in the ratings, the best in almost 25 years. In order for America to heal for at least one night, Dave Chappelle and A Tribe Called Quest had to reconcile with themselves. The world had gone insane since Tuesday.

For a night, it got a remedy to all of it.

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