Phife Dawg – The 5 foot assassin remembered

‘You on point Phife? All the time tip.’

It was never really my intention to write a piece in remembrance of an MC, ‘The High End Theory‘ was merely a platform for me to just talk about hip-hop music. But when your blog’s title is a play-on-words of a classic album that belongs to one of the most beloved hip-hop acts of all time, and a member of said act dies suddenly, it seems only fitting to say something in essence of praise. A Tribe Called Quest, New York hip-hop group and one of the leading forces in the wave of jazz-rap during the 90’s, was made up of 3 members. As of March 22nd, it became 2. After a life-long battle with diabetes, Phife Dawg (Malik Taylor to some) died in his California home and leaves an under-appreciated legacy that a lot of rappers today could only aspire to.

Of course he alone isn’t responsible for the music affiliated with his career, as he belonged to a trio (a group 4 until after their first album) that collectively made hip-hop records that would go on to stand the test of time and be considered as ‘classics’ even today. His contribution is significant of course, not just to the track roster of A Tribe Called Quest, but his help and mentoring to other artists on the come up after the groups split in 1998. He belonged to a movement of the genre that promoted political consciousness and a generally positive outlook on life. Phife Dawg embodied that. He’s described to have had a “self-deprecating swagger”, meaning he challenged the ‘macho’ image of most rappers, often poking fun at himself and playing on the conventional images and stereotypes people may have had about those that were involved in the game:

“Talkin’ ’bout I need a Phillie right before I get loose / Poor excuse, money please, I get loose off of orange juice”

Often delivering hilariously memorable lines too, as a sort of contrast to the philosophical bars of his fellow MC; Q-Tip:

“Let me hit it from the back, girl, I won’t catch a hernia / Bust off on your couch, now you got Seaman’s Furniture”

Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and Ali Shaheed Muhammad

Phife Dawg, who passed away at only 45 years old, leaves the hip-hop game a different one than when he entered it. His influence was perhaps overshadowed by the success of the group as whole, but when you really look into it, he did help majorly change the way rappers express themselves. The likes of early Kanye and Common are clear disciples of Phife’s work and his attitude to how to paint yourself as a rapper. His message was clear; be yourself. To me he was just as big a part of the group as Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, providing a humorous, whimsical and fiery personality to one of the most important groups in hip-hop history.

Rest in peace, Phife. 


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