I first understood the genius of A Tribe Called Quest through the smooth, languorous rhymes of Q-Tip. “Stern, firm, and young with a laid-back tongue, the aim is to succeed and achieve at 21,” he rhymes on “Jazz (We’ve Got),” a track that became a staple in my rotation during high school. Here’s the truth: the circuitous, disconnected reality of growing up in the digital age meant that I heard songs like “Scenario” or “Check the Rhime” before I actually ever sat down to listen to a full-length Tribe album. So it wasn’t until I got a hold of my brother’s burned copy of The Low End Theory that I really understood who was behind those cocky, self-assured couplets, like the booming intro to “Buggin’ Out.” I remember something clicked in me when I heard those opening words for the first time: “Microphone check, 1-2, what is this/The five-foot assassin with the roughneck business.”
The man responsible for that double take was Phife Dawg (aka Malik Taylor), a founding member of A Tribe Called Quest who passed away at the age of 45 on Tuesday, March 22. Phife Dawg will go down as one of hip-hop’s most playful MCs, his wisecracking rhymes adding buoyant flow and braggadocio to the self-aware and socially conscious spirit of A Tribe Called Quest. A new generation of rappers and hip-hop artists grew up on his work with Tribe, and his impact on the Latino community should never be underestimated. To honor a man who brought beats, rhymes, and life to so many Latino hip-hop heads, we decided to compile some of the most moving eulogies, reflections, and memories that our community has shared thus far.
Bobbito Garcia, iconic co-host of The Stretch Armstrong & Bobbito Show
“My favorite personal memory with him though was when he came up to be a guest on our WKCR radio show,” Garcia told us over email. “He rhymed off the top of his head, talked about basketball, and was a really fun guest. He was having so much fun, in fact, he stayed almost until the end (our slot was 1-5 a.m.), but around 4 a.m., he fell asleep, in the studio, while we were on air! Don’t know if that was a testament to how hard the brother worked, or just how late we used to be on, but either way, he was a trooper when he woke up to all of his basically laughing at him, and just played it off, and smiled.
That’s how I’d like to remember him. A dude who had fun.”
On Facebook, Díaz eulogized Phife and described A Tribe Called Quest as the “soundtrack to my college years.”
Tribe and PE were the soundtrack of my college years. Even saw Tribe live in 92, 93, shows I’ll never forget. This is…
Posted by Junot Díaz on Wednesday, March 23, 2016
On Tuesday, Miranda sat down with Billboard and discussed the influence Tribe had on him as a New York City teenager growing up in the 90s. “Phife was so unapologetically himself. He rapped about being diabetic, he rapped about being 5 feet tall. He took the things that you think would discount someone from being able to have a career as an MC and made them superpowers,” he writes. “I mourn the loss of Phife’s voice that interplay between him and Q-Tip. But I’m also grateful for it. Phife was 45 years old, and that is too, too young. He struggled with his health his entire life, but the things that he made are going to stay with us forever. You can’t help but be grateful for that.”
Read the entire Billboard interview here.
Kool A.D., formerly one half of Das Racist, famously immortalized Tribe in “Who’s That? Brooown!,” a cut that references Charlie Brown’s verse on “Scenario.” The track first appeared on their mixtape Shut Up, Dude!.
B-Real, member of Cypress Hill
Mellow Man Ace, member of Cypress Hill
He returned to spiritual essence much to soon, RIP Phife Dawg Zulu. To my friend Jarobi and his family and friends, know that we are mourning with you.
Posted by Mellow Man Ace on Wednesday, March 23, 2016