Remembering Phife Dawg: 5 Tributes to A Tribe Called Quest

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When bandmate Q-Tip asked him if he was on point, Phife Dawg famously answered, “All the time, Tip.” So much more than those four words, the smooth, self-assured delivery is one of the most essential aspects Phife contributed not only to A Tribe Called Quest but hip-hop in general: confident, smirking, a smile lurking just behind his bravado. A wisecracking wordsmith who was most concerned with setting the joke straight before delivering the punchline.

The realistic yang to Q-Tip’s abstract ying, Malik I. Taylor contributed so much to hip-hop without demanding a spotlight for himself that sometimes, he’s taken for granted. It was after his passing at age 45 (from diabetes complications on Tuesday, March 22) that many people, famous or otherwise, quoted many of his great lines in tribute to the rapper. As many have noted, his lyrics and delivery are up there with any GOAT you can think of, yet he often fails to get the recognition he deserves.

That’s because one of his greatest talents, shared with the other members of A Tribe Called Quest, was that his contribution was greater than the sum of its parts. Tribe shook up the genre by infusing their music with jazz samples, and they embodied the Native Tongues collective ideal of African roots and political and social awareness without ever succumbing to preachiness, delivering straight up classics like “Can I Kick It?,” “Bonita Applebum,” “Check The Rhime,” “Scenario,” and hip-hop staples like The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders.

Phife will go down in history as the amazing rapper he was, but nothing will top having helped create one of the mightiest musical unions in history. In tribute, we gathered some of the best Latin homages to A Tribe Called Quest.


Royal Highness - "Bonita Bonita"

The screwmbia duo did their thing with one of Tribe’s most iconic joints. Though Phife takes a backseat to Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad on this song, “Bonita Applebum” hardly loses its flavor over the chopped cumbia beat, making it an ideal candidate for what Royal Highness do best. “Bonita Bonita” makes me wonder what other Tribe songs could work as cumbias.


Danay Suárez, Los Aldeanos & Silvito El Libre - "Check La Rima"

Of course, Tribe was instrumental in bringing jazz into hip-hop, sampling and namechecking bebop trumpets and double basses. So it seems only natural that The Low End Theory cut “Check The Rhime” gets a son cubano arrangement in DJ/broadcaster Gilles Peterson’s series Havana Cultura. The horns keep it in true spirit, while Danay Suárez, Los Aldeanos, and Silvito El Libre deliver rapid-fire rhymes.


Carlos Niño & Miguel Atwood-Ferguson - "Find A Way"

This track has a whole new meaning as a result of Phife’s passing, but Carlos Niño and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson’s version of “Find A Way” was originally intended as a tribute to another fallen hip-hop hero: J Dilla, who produced the original beat. In their hands, the track becomes a heavenly jazz funk voyage into instrumental gentleness that’s nothing short of breathtaking.


Tiro De Gracia - "El Juego Verdadero"

Famously, Tiro De Gracia’s best known song samples Grover Washington, Jr. and Bill Withers soul classic “Just The Two Of Us” but it also makes good use of Tribe’s “Oh My God,” which explains why this song is so unstoppable.


Tiro De Gracia - "Interploración (Pacto Con Las Ánimas)"

While this Chilean hip-hop troupe’s best known song might sample a Tribe song, it’s hardly their only use of the band’s music. From the same album that spawned “El Juego Verdadero,” 1997’s Ser Humano!!, this short track makes Tribe’s “Mind Power” its own and powers it throughout.