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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

RIP PhifeDawg, aka Malik Taylor and some of 90's NYC

(Above a still from the music video for "Jazz/Buggin' Out" by "A Tribe Called Quest" (1991) featuring a then mostly desolate DUMBO waterfront in the background. Of course that building behind them in this shot is being made currently, into condos.)

Phife Dawg is dead at 45. This one personally hurts.

"Phife Dawg" aka Malik Taylor was a lyricist and key member of hiphop's ground breaking group "A Tribe Called Quest"

Some folks rant about people mourning the death of entertainers or celebs, and if you're kind of fan of "A Tribe Called Quest" then Malik Taylor aka Phife Didd-dawg was the energetic essence of that, but he was also the dude I'd see on the regular in NYC. Specifically in video game arcades where he'd hold down a machine for hours, beating anyone who foolishly stepped to challenge, or just rocking the machine by himself. If you have no idea who I'm talking about let me take a few lyrics from the man himself to explain:

"Now here's a funky introduction of how nice I am Tell your mother, tell your father, send a telegram I'm like an energizer cause, you see, I last long My crew is never ever wack because we stand strong"

From "Check the Vibe" by A Tribe Called Quest
(This video shot with contours of a desolate DUMBO in the Background)

Phife on his preference of women:

"I like 'em brown, yellow, Puerto Rican or Haitian Name is Phife Dawg from the Zulu Nation Told you in the jam that we can get down Now let's knock the boots like the group H-Town You got BBD all on your bedroom wall But I'm above the rim and this is how I ball A gritty little something on the New York street This is how I represent over this here beat"

From "Electric Relaxation" by A Tribe Called Quest,

Phife On fidelity:

"Original rude boy, never am I coy You can be a shorty in my ill convoy Not to come across as a thug or a hood But hon, you got the goods, like Madelyne Woods By the way, my name's Malik The Five-Foot Freak Let's say we get together by the end of the week She simply said, "No", labelled me a ho I said, "How you figure?" "My friends told me so" I hate when silly groupies wanna run they yap
Word to God hon, I don't get down like that."
Also From "Electric Relaxation" by A Tribe Called Quest

Phife On life(kinda):

"I never half step cause I'm not a half stepper Drink a lot of soda so they call me Dr. Pepper(sad! He was referring to his indulgence of sugars that led to his diabetes) Refuse to compete with BS competition Your name ain't Special Ed so won't you seckle with the mission I never walk the street thinking it's all about me Even though deep in my heart, it really could be I just try my best to like go all out Some might even say yo shorty black you're buggin' out"
From "Buggin' Out" by A Tribe Called Quest,

Damn! Imagine being 20 years old and those lyrics play over Tribe's dope beats as you walk down the street, into the club, off to class, Phife aka #MalikTaylor made an introduction, lines for anyone feeling the vibe, especially someone young as he was then, trying to find their way.

It's very important to note these albums came out over 20 years ago, when HipHop was still a largely unknown genre, and when images of HipHop ranged from under budget to cliched. Yet A Tribe Called Quest powered by Q-Tip's fertile visual imagination, he and Phife's lyrical flows, Ali Shaheed Muhammad's dope beats and all three of their combined energies created videos which were imaginative, bugged out (sometimes literally, as shown above) and always full of Black and Brown faces.

Smiling faces, Hard Faces, Happy Faces, Dancing Faces, Living Breathing on the Block from Bk to Queens, faces. Us just living, being, us.

For a great example check out this video for "Oh My God" which was shot on Monroe (btw Marcus Garvey and Monroe *below) in Bedford Stuyvesant.

I can't begin to express what it was like in the 90's to click on "Video Music Box" (running on a public tv station channel 31 here in NYC at the time) and seeing the block my family lived on, and the people of Brooklyn I recognized as everyday people being the setting for the music of the moment. Tribe was a part of the culture that elevated an unseen NYC for millions of people.
If you're reading this and you've never heard of any of this, it could because while Phife and A Tribe Called Quest (#ATCQ) were pioneers in a jazz infused melodic hiphop that plotted the course for hundreds of lyrasis and producers to come, most notably The Roots, so you may not have heard Tribe on your radio but it didnt matter or as Phife might say:

No need to sweat Arsenio to gain some type of fame No shame in my game cause I'll always be the same Styles upon styles upon styles is what I have You wanna diss the Phifer but you still don't know the half.
From "Check the Rhime" by A Tribe Called Quest
"Rappin' is an art, coming straight from the heart So forget the chart because the action can start."
From "Hot Sex" A Tribe Called Quest (on the Boomerange Movie Soundtrack)

Me, I used to be a gamer, hardcore, and like others I'd go to the city to play the best in the land. I saw Phife regularly in the arcade. Occasionally I'd stand by and watch his gamer skills. He was totally unpretentious. A regular dude like everyone else, flexing skills at a serious hobby, concentrating mad hard, or cracking jokes.

Dudes would come and try talking him up, but usually not, cause Phife was busy leveling up. And if you know, you know how that goes. After a while my visits to the arcade were just to come and go. I'd step in and right back out cause if Phife was on deck nobody had next.

Phife is a part of my NYC, my Hip-Hop my memories. 

Seeing him struggle with diabetes in the "A Tribe Called Quest" documentary was rough, but like anyone would, I'd hoped he was recovering toward a happy ending.

45 is young. Way too young to go.

(Recent photo of Malik Taylor aka "Phife Dawg" Photo credit Andrew H Walker/Getty)
"You on point Phife?" Yo Rest in Peace man.


(Apologies for the wack spacing throughout this, I will be overhauling this blog soon)

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