Phife Dawg, rapper of A Tribe Called Quest fame, has died. The rapper holds a special place in the hearts of many hip-hop fans, so I will share a story, as I’m sure many others will.
When I was in high school, I began to get into rap. My first introduction was Kanye West, next was undoubtedly A Tribe Called Quest. For weeks, I could not stop listening to two of their masterpieces, 1990’s endlessly colorful People Instinctive Travels and The Paths of Rhythm and the deep, buttery confection that was 1991’s The Low End Theory (the albums were released when the group members were all between the ages of 19 and 21, making the sophistication and genius of these albums even more difficult to believe.
What stunned me about this music was not only Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s hypnotic, jazz-sampling beats, but above all, the nearly-telepathic link between Phife and Q-Tip. Not only were these two rappers at the absolute top of their game, the synthesis between the two was lightning in a bottle, a rap combination that will never be equaled. The only force that could possibly equal Ali’s brilliant palette of artists such as Jack DeJohnette and Lonnie Liston Smith on “Buggin’ Out” was verses such as Phife’s legendary “Microphone check, one two, what is this?” on the same song.
Phife will be missed sorely by the rap world for his youthful exuberance, his swagger and confidence, and his creative, one-of-a-kind verses.