Life played a cruel joke on us yesterday and snatched one of our beloved veterans. Malik Isaac Taylor better known by his stage name Phife Dawg (or simply Phife), a member of the legendary group A Tribe Called Quest passed away due to complications resulting from diabetes. We at Thewordisbond extend our deepest condolences to his family and with all due respect would love to shed light on his impact his music has had on each and everyone of us.
Teck-Zilla: The news shocked me and I’m still trying to process it as I write this. To be honest, I’m still absorbing Sean Price’s demise and upon hearing that Phife left us I was shook . Growing up in the 90s, it was quite impossible to front on ATCQ, in my case I had no choice since I was too young to pick and choose my musical influences and pretty much soaked up anything my older siblings fed me. I am mighty glad they got me into ATCQ. Musically they gave me that alternative vibe with Q-Tip playing the lead and Phife Dawg not far behind. I didn’t get to listen (I mean CONSCIOUSLY) to an ATCQ project until I got Beats, Rhymes And Life and I had to quickly double back to peep their first 3 LPs to fully grasp the gems. Unfortunately Phife only dropped 1 full length project before he passed, the highly overlooked Ventilation: Da Lp. He did give us more than a couple of jams outside ATCQ like “La Schmooze” and more. Rest In Power Phife!
Xplizitsouljah: Just the day before, the news of a veteran artist (Muyiwa Osinuga a.k.a. Nomoreloss) in Nigeria passing had hit and it left one reeling in shock. So imagine that the mind is still coping with that loss and wakes up the following day to hear that the ‘Funky Diabetic’ is no more. It doesn’t really matter how great the super group ATCQ is, with Phife Dawg out of the picture the group ceases to exist for me. Probably because Phife was an all round emcee who was conscious enough to impart and also versatile enough to bring the laughs or sexiness. Another thing that really stood out to me about the 5 Foot assassin was his confidence and carriage. He didn’t try too hard to be in your face but you couldn’t help but notice him. Phife already said it that “styles upon styles upon styles is what I have…” and when you combine that confidence with his super delivery you get an outstanding emcee who delivers results like ‘Bugging Out’ slapping hard with excerpts like “microphone check one two, what is this…” This loss is another great blow to Hip-Hop. I probably will go OD on all things ATCQ right now.
Harvey Newman: What a dark day for Hip-Hop and most importantly for conscious hip-hop. I was born in 1980 so I grew up with 90’s Hip-Hop and as a consumer of conscious hip-hop for me there was nothing better than A Tribe Called Quest, I still remember the debates I had with my closest friends and fellow hip-hop heads about what album was better Doggystyle, Midnight Marauders or 36 Chambers. 1993 will forever be the best year in Hip-Hop, and Phife therefore one of the loudest voices.
Phife and Q-Tip where two sides of the same coin, and Phife’s voice, cadence and delivery completed Q-Tip’s perfectly…the 5 Foot Assassin, was original, funny, and deadly on the rhyme. Its sad to see someone as young and gifted as Phife die at the age of 45. Another young voice of hip-hop is gone and my dream of the Tribe re-uniting and doing one final album or that one final show is now gone. I know Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed will keep the Tribe Sprit alive, but things will never be the same without Phife, and his spirit will forever live on, in the music and lyrics he left us.
George: When it comes to Phife Dawg the first word that comes to my mind is energy. I was twelve years old back in 2004 when I first discovered Phife through the song “Scenario” and as we all know Phife is the first one to kick that incredible song off. For me, that verse is one of Phife’s finest moments. Each and every line is bursting with his trademark energy and cadence. Not only that but he also gave us the sports references, the braggadocio rhymes, and he waved the flag with pride for A Tribe Called Quest all in that one verse. Those three elements never left his repertoire and he would only go on to sharpen his lyrical sword.
Thats another thing that really stood out about Phife. You can say what you want about A Tribe Called Quest, they had amazing songs and the top notch production. But one thing that always stood out about Tribe was the lyrics and Phife was overflowing with incredible lines that have become truly beloved. How many of us know these lines by heart? “I like ‘em brown, yellow, Puerto Rican, or Haitian” from “Electric Relaxation” and if you’re reading this I’m wiling to bet that you were able to finish the second line. What about these classic lines? “Shaheed push the fader from here to Granada. Mr. energetic, who me sound pathetic? When’s the last time you heard a funky diabetic?” off “Oh My God”. Phife Dawg just had a knack for coming up with clever lines and its something that he kept doing throughout his career and it was definitely noticed by his peers. Gang Starr famously used Phifes lines off “Check The Rhime” on the second track off their landmark album entitled Mass Appeal.
Post A Tribe Called Quest Phife would continue making music. He released his underrated Ventilation: Da LP album in the year 2000. Seriously, if you haven’t heard that album please make it a point to check it out! If you need any added reasons to check the album out just know that it features production from the likes of Pete Rock, J Dilla, and Hi-Tek. Phife never put out another album but he did release a few singles here and there such as “Dear Dilla” in 2014 and he also was featured on Slum Village’s most recent album entitled Yes! in 2015. March 22nd, 2016 marked the day that Hip-Hop lost a figurehead and he will never be replaced. Phife and his solo efforts as well as the Tribe records really affected my life in a positive way. I grew up with Phife and the Tribe and I am truly thankful for all the music they ever put out. I know that I am not alone when I make that statement and thats a testament to the profound power of the musical legacy that he has left us. Whether you knew him as Phife Dawg, The Five Foot Assassin, or Mutty Ranks you can bet that you knew his voice, his energy, and his lyrics. Rest In Power King!
Hardeep: Phife was the first rapper whose rhymes I memorized. Growing up in England, the many sports references may have passed me by, but the wit and humour sure didn’t.
The number of artists today who cite Tribe as an influence or as the straight-up inspiration to start writing and making music speaks of their significance, and that the members of Tribe cite Phife as the catalyst for the group itself speaks of his legacy.
Paddy: ATCQ achieved immortality through their exceptional chemistry on records, chiefly the synergy between Phife Dawg and Q-Tip which became a formula of success for future generations. Albums like The Low End Theory changed Hip-hop’s trajectory and finally mixed together ingredients that had existed fragmentally, but found higher purpose when decisively brought together by willing visionaries.
Phife splashed colour into Hip-hop, building upon the explosion of ideas showcased in the late 80’s. Rakim, Kool G Rap & Big Daddy Kane set the standards of lyricism, whilst the Jungle Brothers and De La Soul pushed the creative boundaries further. But it took the vision of Phife alongside ATCQ to bring many of these elements together and reach the wider masses with a sound akin to a sonic revolution.
As an emcee Phifes rhyming style can be considered loose, with tones so vibrant he makes music sound effortless, yet the consistent quality of his raps could only be achieved by a master of the profession. Phife Dawg’s voice seemed to bounce out of the speaker, bordering on transforming an audio experience into a visual adventure and stopping just short of bending the realms of possibility. Taking this into account, it’s no wonder that Phife mentions he has been known to do the impossible on “Scenario”.
Phife’s impact can be partially attributed to his hyper-creative imagination and his inescapable infectious flow that bounced in tandem with production from the likes of Pete Rock, Hi-Tek and J Dilla. In 2016, when an artist tries to emulate that classic Jazz/Hip-hop sound whether conscious of it or not, they will often begin by rapping in the same cadence that Phife made popular. Tribes universal appeal remains the blueprint for mixing commercial success without sacrificing on quality. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly was the natural evolution of ideas first explored by the Native Tongues collective with Phife forming an integral part of that movement. He will be sadly missed but never forgotten.
Eric Soul: The entire ATCQ has long been one of my favorite groups of all time, but Phife has been the one that stood out the most. His rhymes are creative, and he plays with words in a way that makes you feel like having a great time at a house party of some sort. The ‘funky diabetic’ line solidified his stance as one of the greatest, and to see the ATCQ documentary singled that one out made it clear that he could hang with the best of them, while keeping it funky. Sad to see him gone, but his lyrics will always resonate among us in the Hip-hop community.