“I NEVER HALF STEP CAUSE I’M NOT A HALF STEPPER, I DRINK A LOT OF SODA SO THEY CALL ME DR. PEPPER” – Phife Dawg
What horrible news to wake up to. Malik Taylor aka Phife Dawg aka the 5ft Freak of a Tribe Called Quest passed away yesterday. Tribe is in my top 5 groups/bands of all time. Not just top 5 rap groups, I mean of all music I listen to. They are one of those groups where the music is timeless; I listen to probably at least one of their tracks every single day and always have. Sure, their music was topical of the times that it was released in, but the sound and the style keep it timeless.
Towards the end of my junior year in high school I discovered a Tribe Called Quest. At the end of every school year, the school radio station would have a big sale of extra records, tapes and cd’s. That day I found the 12” single of I Left My Wallet in El Segundo. https://youtu.be/WILyWmT2A-Q I picked it up because I was a fan of De La Soul and on their first album they had a song called Buddy which featured Q-Tip. That was the best dollar I ever spent because there was no turning back, I became a hard core Tribe Called Quest fan.
The average person probably mostly knows a Tribe Called Quest because of Q-Tip. True hip hop heads know that the secret weapon was Phife. The Low End Theory (Tribes 2nd album) was where Phife showed that he is an emcee not to be reckoned with. He starts off the first verse on Buggin’ Out, the second track on the album. All it took for me to be hooked on that album and on Phife in general was that first line to start the song. “Yo, microphone check one, two what is this? The five foot assassin with the roughneck business” I know for a fact that there are many besides me that claim that verse got them to become a fan of Phife Dawg. https://youtu.be/uhcmzBgJVgg He was also a huge sports fan and he put references and metaphors relating to sports on almost every song. “Comin’ with more hits than the Braves or the Yankees!” is one that always pops in my head.
Phife also made it known of his battle with diabetes within his rhymes. In the song Oh My God he raps, “When’s the last time ya heard a funky diabetic?’. https://youtu.be/OIah18jcJko Unfortunately diabetes is what eventually led to his passing and prevented us from hearing and seeing more Tribe shows. Late last year the group did the rounds promoting the remastered anniversary edition of People’s Instinctive Travels and Paths of Rhythm. During that time the guys performed live on The Tonight show, which got everyone excited for more Tribe performances in 2016. Now with the passing of Phife, that performance will be the last ever of the original group. I was really looking forward to a reunion announcement this year and I was crossing my fingers for them to be a part of the lineup for Riot Fest in Chicago. But I have that Tonight Show performance to always go back and watch any time and it was awesome and very worthy of a final performance.
About five or six years ago I started a hip hop sleeve on my left arm and the very first tattoo I got for it was the logo of Tribe’s stick figures. I’ve added other hip hop elements since then, but that one is my favorite and that is why I added it first.
Another great story I have is back in 2004 I was still doing video production for the House of Blues in Chicago. There was a special sponsored show one night when I was off and the entertainment scheduled was LL Cool J. I was excited because I’m a big fan of his and happen to share names with him (Todd Smith). My buddy Chris and I arrived early only to find out LL cancelled because he had food poisoning or something. To our delight the last minute replacement was A Tribe Called Quest. It was a big deal because they were essentially broken up at the time and they weren’t really doing live shows or tours. That was the last time I saw them live and I’ll never forget how the crowd went crazy when they came on, especially to the ones there who didn’t know who the replacement was going to be.
Back in January David Bowie passed away and a lot of people were bummed out and paid tribute to him in many ways. I respect Bowie and like some of his stuff but I wasn’t super into him like a lot of people I know are. Phife passing away is a big deal to me and if you don’t know much about Tribe or classic hip hop maybe you don’t fully get it. The best way I can get you to relate is the way you felt about the loss of Bowie or Lemmy is how I feel today. So turn on some Tribe Called Quest and bob your head and try not to smile.