I Can't Play The Resurrector But Let Me Show Some Love For Phife
-This text was originally a Facebook post, since The Wudder didn't yet exist, thumb-tapped out on my phone between the hours 2-4 AM on 3/23/20SickDream within an hour of hearing the news of Phife's passing.
-The Facebook Police aka FBPD for whatever reason blocked it from being commented on a couple hours later, then deleted altogether with still no explanation at the time of this post.
March 23, 2016
4 AM Pacific Coast Time
Santa Monica, California
The first thing that popped into my brain upon hearing a few Internet "friends tell me so" about the passing of Malik Isaac Taylor aka Phife Dawg of the legendary A Tribe Called Quest at the age of 45 was, as one might expect, a quotable line that he rhymed on one of the first three bonafide classic albums the group released, in a span of just three years and seven months (April 1990 thru November 1993).
While he will never be mentioned in the Rakim, KRS, Hov, BIG type of GOAT MC discussions, who really had a higher quotable-per-verse ratio than The Phifer?
Without really giving it too much thought or running any actual data, I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess the answer is not very many.
Typically, I don't like when writers and journalists personalize events or discuss folks they never met as if they were old friends, while injecting themselves into the story, discussing a figure they're purporting to pay tribute or farewell-following word after an artist's passing.
But one of the essential gifts that Malik Isaac Taylor aka Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest, was that you're pretty sure you at least kinda knew him even if your paths never literally crossed.
My only personal contact or correspondence directly with Phife was occasionally chopping it up about sports on Twitter, although even that is just another indicator of just how relatable and “regular” Phife Dawg was.
Much of what felt familiar is the way he owned and made no apologies for who he was and what he wasn't.
While clearly the second-most-vital contributor, to a unit that will be inducted into the R&RHOF within the calendar year or two at worst, he was absolutely an integral part of the group's greatness and it is not a coincidence that Tribe's two best albums are the pair of albums in which he is at his most actively engaged.
Editorial Aside: Gene Gargamel Simmons can take that to his favorite place-the bank-while he is now advised to use his litigious mind and prodigious tongue to provide plenty "licks, licks, licks, boy....'pon ya backside”.
But Phife was not the Captain of the Ship, leading the charge to make the Three (or sometimes Four) Kids Rip.
He wasn’t his childhood friend Kamal Davis aka Q-Tip, who stated 20 years after the group in Michael Rapaport's documentary film Beats, Rhymes & Life, "I didn't single myself out to be the f@%king Ginsu Master of this sh*t", when the reality is that he was exactly that.
Perhaps Q-Tip’s forever-forthcoming The Last Zulu album, has that working title but remains unfinished because he still hasn’t come to terms with that fact.
Tip was the artistic genius, burdened by all that comes with it, including the perfectionist vision and obsessive drive.
Tip was also almost a full foot taller than Phife Dawg, his childhood homie since age five who first taught Tip how to rhyme.
It goes without saying who you'd pick to win the scrap in a fair one, same way it went without saying who was the top choice of the fairer sex.
But enough about Q-Tip's ability to adjudicate friction or fluctuate diction, we’re here to talk about the life and legacy of Phife.
The tinier Trini gladiator, Malik the Five Foot Freak, the never-half-stepper they sometimes called Dr. Pepper, was far more pragmatic in both his performance and projected persona…
Diffusing any personal appearance affronts off top, bold approach in the Ski-Lo Era.
A practice Phife perfected, seemingly effortlessly, long before "One More Chance" by Big Pop......much less when Eminem first stepped onstage at the Hip Hop Shop.
While Tip's companions or rumored conquests were word of mouth pre-Internet rap lore: Nicole Kidman, Angie Martinez, ‘janet.’-era Janet Jackson, and more.
Our man Phife Diggy was advertising his appreciation for women hailing from almost anywhere from here to Grenada, who might have the goods like Madelyne Woods, to explore below the baggy jeans' equator.
The Diddawg recognized Nia Long's radiance onscreen long before Love Jones made her look like the “The Sweetest Thing” you've ever known.
And the Five-Foot-Assassin couldn't surf the web to find out one of Nia’s grandmothers shared Trinidadian origins like he and his family mostly were.
There was some real research put into that ‘actual and factual’.
Instead he wove that web of commonality + implied admiration into the opening track from a monster album, which would soon boast a few classic hip-hop singles.
With a few iconic videos that Young Nia might see on Rap City, while in a hotel room on the road or in her trailer on set approximately 40-50 times, before her and Phife Dawg might see each other for the first or next time.
The Art of Inception, long before Tip's boy Leo made Inception.
Lyrically, Phife laid the groundwork…then let his work do the work.
He was gonna shoot his shot, whether running full-court game or not.
“Kid, you know my flava, tear this whole jam apart/F— around and have your heart, like Jordan had Starks'/ While you playin’ hokey pokey, there's no time to be jokey/’Cuz I come out to play every night like Charles Oakley ... My style is, everyday all day, similar to water/Crushin’ MC’s as if my name was Sargent Slaughter”
We mentioned commiserating with about sports with Phife, because he was indeed a sports nut already ready to chop it up, just like me and many of you too.
While again like 98% of the diehard sports fans in America once past say high-school/college, whenever we hit our proverbial athletic performance glass ceiling, Phife loved sports but was better at following then playing into his 30’s.
Phife was, in so many ways, either ourselves or that friend we all have and love.
Our man wasn't claiming that he could actually pull Dawn Robinson, however he was gonna put it out into the universe thru verse that the prospect would be welcome…..so he would always be traveling with a voluminous supply of protection, just in case.
Speaking of safe-sex practices, who better to set the scene as the first voice you hear on 1994's biggest blockbuster R&B album of that year, the sophomore effort by the previous year’s Princesses of Prophylactics, TLC ("Intro-Lude" off CrazySexyCool) back when doing such things was a rarity?
Keith Murray, who sorta seemed like he could've been Phife’s wild-for-the-night play-cousin, on Mary J. Blige’s classic My Life from the same year, was the only other prime example.
Phife Dawg, became a New York City transplant down in ATL, so it’s fitting that the famous local news Phife lyric-referencing broadcast came from there:
While Jermaine Dupri had been putting in work, doing his thing since the dawn of the ‘90’s, 1994 was when things really began to fully break for hip-hop forces in ATL.
A little group called OutKast would drop their debut album that year, with Goodie Mob (lead by Cee-Lo) following close behind. This was the boiling point for a couple prominent East/West rap industry factions so before you knew it, the coasts had been at it so long they didn’t realize "The South got something to say” and was Comin' Out Hard until things were already rolling.
Rap music, for better and yes occasionally for worse, has not been the same since.
Things breaking in ATL also signalled a line of demarcation for A Tribe Called Quest, because when Phife broke out for the burgeoning transplant city and rising temperatures of its cultural hot plate, the group’s dynamic and structure changed forever.
The move was either due to Phife being once again prescient, or having less publishing songwriting/production stake to live the way he wanted to in New York in the increasingly expensive, post-Giuliani, white-washed Wal-Mart/Disney/Diallo era; or maybe just wanting some more space at a good price.
Whatever the case may be, the move to ATL's affect was felt, not just by Phife but the group and eventually the entire genre.
Let me try to briefly, as much as possible with yours truly, get back to an hour or so ago after finding out about this in typical digital era fashion: quick and cruelly.
We opened with me expressing my distaste for where this narrative is now going.
Giving you and hitting you with some of the Realest Quotes and Bluest Notes since his Native Tongue roll call line with De La, Tribe, Monie, Latifah and the Jungle Brothers in '89.
A 25+ Year Career on the Mic.
A legacy and contribution which as of this morning, has now officially outlasted his life.
So yes, maybe that happens to be way earlier than any of us wanted to see it happen.
The bottom line is we all gotta go some day, the beautiful thing is that in the days he was here on Earth, Malik Taylor's aura was positive without being a bully or a punk, while he was part of some art that is beautiful enough it was gonna outlive him even if he had been able to rock to a hundred and one years old.
And sure maybe in a few (er, half) of those years, he coulda focused more and done a bit more rapping.
But once Tribe docked their ship, the first mate wasn't gonna worry about trying to sail in the same ocean without the captain.
For the record, while discord was a prominent theme in the doc...
I did see my favorite personally attended A Tribe Called Quest show, having seen six Tribe concerts between 1990 and 2013, at a strange event called the H20 Festival in "LA Historic National Park", near the Chinatown Metro Line Train Station and Tribe weren't even closing the show either.
Pitbull, of all people, was backstage waiting.
Phife was clearly laboring up there that evening, his health declining to a level that you knew he couldn't actually do a tour, not even if him and Tip were now personally even cooler than they’d been back in middle school.
Onstage the appreciation Tip had for his ailing partner’s efforts, plus Phife's letting go of any sort of notions or delusions of grandeur about the heavy lifting, was palpable.
The juxtaposition of both combined with a lifelong friendship made their shared energy float, of course aided by the group's spiritual center/OG member Jarobi’s presence, plus on the decks as always the ageless Ali Shaheed aka Mr. Muhammad if you don't know.
What else is there to see after that, besides Pitbull?!?
Nah, let's beat traffic and just stay remembering *that shit*.
What left could there be to connect this back to “little old me”?
In the past month (from top) I've had my current job lost, my dream job delayed, my best friend in LA of 13 years who I've known for 22 drop dead at 41 after having spoke to him feeling fine earlier that same day, still processing that having to chase checks owed while pulling rabbits out the hat and in that somewhat zombie-like state of trying to process ended up involved in two minor car crashes, and just now already missed my first two flights overnight from LAX-to-PHL due to first a lost ID, then late to board due to the Brussels security beef-up.
Because the literal first thing I had upon hearing that The Funky Diabetic had tragically come to his Final Exit was his addendum at the end of a laundry list losing streak:
“And to top it off, Starks got ejected”
It’s both that signifying moment when things go from bad to worse, while also a seemingly trivial humorous detail that once the bad stuff piles up quickly in a short period of time, to a truly absurd degree, it means that it's best to as Q-Tip says “laugh to keep from crying”.
It also is a way of time-stamping things at the nadir,
as if to say there’s nowhere to go but up from here.
Rest in Peace to Malik.
Hopefully this is, for them as well as for us, the last of these sort of life-altering "Problems" for at least a little bit.
Condolences to Phife Dawg’s family (his wife in particular.......seems like he's got a great one there), his friends, his hometown, Tribe fans worldwide and especially to Tip, Ali and Jarobi, who Phife will continue to walk with thru spirit and song forever.
I just try my best to like go all out,
Thank you Phife & Tribe Called Quest,
By you we have all been blessed,
Thus concludes my buggin' out.