Posthumous albums are already a tall order to manufacture, ensuring that the artist’s history, distinct aura and, artistic style are all imbued into quality performances and sufficient new material. But it’s quite another task to encapsulate all of these components for an artist with the legacy and impact that the late Malik Taylor, popularly known as Phife Dawg, had on the hip-hop industry and the greater music community as a whole during his time with A Tribe Called Quest.
Forever arrives on the sixth anniversary of his passing, with thirteen tracks of material that see Phife deliver and tell stories like he always has, but focus on topics of his family, ongoing battle with diabetes, healings of broken relationships, and commemorations of late friends, all things that mattered to him most nearing the end of his life. Despite the over-sentimentality and excess nostalgia that Forever leans on, which often spends more time memorializing Phife than highlighting his core style, the warmth and technicality of his craft still shine through beautifully, reminding listeners of the same rapper that won over their hearts nearly four decades ago.
Curated by long-time collaborator and partner Dion Liverpool (a.k.a. DJ Rasta Root), Forever already contained a foundation of recordings, instrumentals, and demos from previous sessions and material that Phife was working on for other projects, and all together it remains cohesive and true to his sound and style. It’s an impressive feat in itself, also made possible by the numerous guest features and long-time friends that make appearances throughout the tracklist, which help flesh out the areas of the album that were left unfinished by Phife before his untimely passing.
The remixed “Nutshell Pt. 2” flexes dexterous rhyme schemes and incredible lyrical amalgamations from Busta Rhymes and Redman, who alongside Phife Dawg and the wholly nostalgic, top-notch production from J Dilla, transport listeners straight to the Golden Age ’90s in the best way possible. Rapsody contributes seamlessly to the themes of parenthood and family that Phife heartbreakingly foretells about his future as a father on “Fallback.” And the powerfully stirring chorus on the “Dear Dilla (Reprise)” from Q-Tip does as much to honor Phife’s legacy as they both do for J Dilla, the haunting instrumental and touching lyricism making for one of the most emotionally potent moments on the entire album.
Admittedly not every track on the album quite stands strong on its own. At times the production feels a bit dated, where the time gap between now and the original recordings can be felt. Some tracks like the uplifting “2 Live Forever” lack a certain musical presence from Phife himself, where his inclusions feel more distant than ever before. But these setbacks are understandable given the nature of the project, and they certainly don’t detract from the numerous quality verses that Phife delivers.
Forever will last as a suitable and memorable salute to the rapper so beloved and honored, with enough merit for listeners old and new to return to for years to come.