Yesterday, a lot of hip hop heads woke up to hear that one of the pioneers had passed away. Phife Dawg, “The Five Foota”, succumbed to complications from diabetes and passed away at the age of 45. I, like everyone else who are fans of A Tribe Called Quest, played their music while at work, sitting in traffic, or while at home yesterday in honor of one of the great ones that we grew up listening to.
My brother texted me yesterday to tell me the news, and I sat still in disbelief…for a while. Hearing about Phife’s death literally brought tears to my eyes because though I never met him, I felt like a cousin of mine that I grew up with passed away. Those that are close to me know that A Tribe Called Quest is my favorite rap group….period. Their music has influenced multiple aspects of my life, whether unintentionally or was just playing in the background.
I met one of best friends while I was paying for an ATCQ CD during a band trip. I taught myself the bass guitar because I longed to figure out the bassline to Electric Relaxation. I often meditate and simply relax while playing their music. I even wrote some of my posts while tracks from ATCQ were playing. When I have a bad day, I often play the Outkast and ATCQ infusion track by DJ Needles, Findawayinduetime. My heart ached when they disbanded, and my heart cheered when we heard that they were trying to come back together. It took me forever to watch the documentary Beats, Rhymes, & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest because I couldn’t cope with the fact that it ended with a confirmation that my favorite group couldn’t work it out.
I always jokingly further personified each of the members of A Tribe Called Quest as additional cousins and wondered what it would be like to hang out with them. Q-Tip would have been that overly deep cat that could talk about the history of man and hip-hop, then he would be the coolest wing man as two around-the-way girls walked in the room. Shaheed Muhammad would be the quiet one that you knew was always busy doing something and had money, but you never knew what he did. Jarobi…lol…would be the cousin that you always heard about that stayed in the next town, but you never met him. Phife, whew, would be the fun cousin that always checked on you and made you smile even though his rough day was worse than yours. He would always have a joke and clown the others. He would be the one that would walk you to your car, give you some solid advice, and tell you to text him when you got home. He would be my favorite cousin.
As I sat in traffic yesterday, I played some of my favorite tracks from the group and fast-forwarded to Phife’s verses. I laughed at the clever wordplay and smiled as I heard his similes. I thought about where I was in my life when certain tracks played. I marveled at his skill and his energy on any track that he was on. I came up with a “Top Five Phife Dawg Verses” list in my head. He, and ATCQ, were part of a time when hip hop was fun, motivational, and true storytelling.
I had to shed a few this morning and write this. I am not the type that idolizes stars, but Phife’s death felt very personal to me like it did to many of you. Thanks for your contribution to real hip hop, Phife. Thanks for the funny one liners and the ingenious wordplay. Thank you. Thank you. Rest in Peace, my brother.