The worse feeling in life is heartbreak. After remembering the illustrious voice of west in Nate Dogg, we lose another Dawg, and it’s hard to even fathom the news. Malik Isaac Taylor, or known better as Phife Dawg, was literally one of the greatest MC’s of the 90s from the collective A Tribe Called Quest. As lyrically slick as he was smooth, Phife’s greatness comes from his humanistic nature in the way he spit behind the mic. But nothing was ever as realized as Phife’s ability as a stout rapper with a jokester-like nature in his rhymes. He counterbalanced Q-Tip’s bohemian thinker-like verses to make every track fun and noteworthy. The kind of chemistry these two have came to us as a rare example of having two different types of artists making one overall cohesive sound, like Outkast. They’re inability to conform to the old ways of hip-hop allowed them to pave a path for alternative hip-hop as the years progressed, and his place in the definitive change will remain in tact.
And yet I remember a time where all I would freestyle over was nothing jazz rap but specifically instrumentals remade by others from albums like Midnight Marauders and The Low End Theory. And as much as I loved Q-Tip, nothing matched Phife’s joking nature. I at one point tried to model myself off the rapper, but the cynicism eventually took over. And to make it clear, I’m not apathetic.
It was bars like “The batteries I use are called Duracell / They last for three weeks so they do me well” on “Skypager” or “I come correct in full effect have all my hoes in check / And before I get the butt the jim must be erect” on “Check the Rhyme” that made Phife as great presence on People’s Instinctives Travels and The Paths of Rhythm and The Low End Theory.
He had these uniquely savage punchlines that stood out because it was funny, it was different, and at the same time it comes off clever. He raps “I’m all that and then some, short, dark, and handsome / bust a nut in your eye to show you where I cum from,” on “Scenario,” which shows how he was able from something clean to something that just had you rolling on the floor.
Now the nostalgia is being brought back with modern hip-hop; none of which has still replicated the magic these three created. Phife Dawg made it lovable, and he made it hype.
Just recently People’s Instinctives turned 25 years old, and as the collective reunited on Jimmy Fallon not so long ago, Phife showed he was as meticulous as he always was and it brought tears to my eyes. And then to realize that their last tour performance in NYC during the Yeezus tour is now the last whole performance done by the collective as a whole. The news is saddening to all of us here at The Young Folks, as well as the hip-hop community. We lost a legend before it was his time, but you can’t control one’s own health. And Phife lived an illustrious life, and his legacy will be remembered forever. Forever missed G.