“I don’t know what to say, but here I go freak it…”
I can literally trace the beginning of my hip-hop obsession back to A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory album. I was into hip-hop before then—whether it was watching movies like Breakin’ or listening to Run-D.M.C. tapes—but The Low End Theory changed the trajectory of my life. It made me study the craft of writing raps and sampling, and even made me appreciate music videos and album covers and rap magazines as part of the art form (I still have The Source issue the above picture was originally featured in, it’s one of my most cherished possessions). Plus it got me into jazz, a genre I had never really been into before, and hip-hop culture as a whole. Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad were the coolest dudes on the planet to me, and they made the dopest music, too. They gave birth to my career as an MC and rap writer and all that. Everything I do has a hip-hop element to it, and I attribute them to starting it all off.
It’s weird when an artist you love but never knew personally passes away—you still feel like you’ve lost one of your closest friends because of how much their music and voice have been a part of your life. Lots of people my age fell head over heels for hip-hop because of A Tribe Called Quest, me being one of them. So losing Phife feels like we’ve all lost a little piece of ourselves. He represents our generation, our youth, our spirit, our “Butter.”
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory is my favorite album of all-time, any genre. Nothing will ever change that. Phife, thank you for everything you gave to us. You’re one of the nicest, flyest, most confident and witty MCs to ever bless a microphone—and I can only imagine how awesome it was have you as a friend or family member. You will never be forgotten, we’re gonna pump your shit ’til infinity.
Just a couple personal connections to Phife I’d like to share before I’m out like Buster Douglas. First, this is a “Keep It Rollin'” music video I made with my boy Jiggs back in high school that aired at the end of an episode of our public access television show Prime Time with Dan and Andrew. He performs Phife’s verse, and I make a cameo at the end. This is one of my two favorite Phife verses.
My other favorite Phife verse is from “Vibes and Stuff” (I’ve already quoted it twice in this post, and shout to my boy Tic who started his senior yearbook quote with it). I flipped it with my own lyrics on my 2006 mixtape Real Breezy, check the rhyme above.
There are so many more Phife-related memories I could get into, like the first time I saw A Tribe Called Quest perform at Lollapalooza in 1994 on Randall’s Island, or how my friends and I lip-synced “Scenario” at a sleepaway camp talent show, or how Phife kicked the illest freestyle on The Arsenio Hall Show one time over a Q-Tip beatbox and my boy Matty B had it on VHS tape and we watched and quoted it constantly (see clip below). But for now, I’m just gonna throw on The Low End Theory and let it ride out. Then probably Midnight Marauders after that. I suggest you all do the same.
RIP Phife Dawg. My deepest condolences to his family and friends.
Images via UpNorthTrips.
These television news dudes paid tribute to Phife on-air in the slickest way, inserting A Tribe Called Quest lyrics into their broadcast during the traffic report. Love it. Respect.