When Hip Hop Happens

March 2016 – Phife Dawg’s Death Shakes a Nation


When I powered on my phone on the morning of March 24, 2016, I couldn’t believe the news that day. I just wanted to close my eyes and make it go away.

A post on Twitter from Killah Priest or maybe from Rolling Stone Magazine, told me that Phife, half of Hip Hop’s dynamic duo of emcees representing from Queens, had passed away at the tender age of 45.

The news almost dropped me.

Honestly, if I hadn’t already been in the hospital myself, I’m sure I would have needed to excuse myself after hearing the news and gone to the bathroom to collect myself.

As it was, the reality that A Tribe Called Quest could never be whole again not only torpedoed hopes of any future reunions, but also snatched away yet another piece of my youth, like only age and time can.

For Hip Hop heads like myself, Tribe may have well have been the Rap Beatles.

They were a group whose music transcended and redefined the genre in such a way that you somehow felt smarter just having exposed yourself to their bars.

Like everyone else Phife’s pithy, shit-popping style was the perfect complement to the often smooth, esoteric rhymes of his partner – Q Tip. Often mixing in a wide range of sports references and metaphors, Phife was a force who set himself aside from other emcees.

The sports references, were the least of it. No one could tell could tell a story like Phife.

Even though I loved Phife’s style, I never anticipated the overall love that came from the Hip Hop community after his death. Tributes and memories poured in from all aspects of the culture and for a moment we were all unified.

it’s for that reason, that Phife’s passing the overwhelming reaction to it is our latest example of “When Hip Hop Happens.”

Born Malik Taylor in Jamaica, Queens in 1970, the self-described “Trini-gladiator” joined with his abstract brother – Tip at age 2 in friendship, but formed A Tribe Called Quest along with Jarobi and DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad years later.

Members of the Native Tongue family, Tribe followed in the tradition of The Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, the Violators and Black Sheep to show a different side of Hip Hop. Often flowing over uniquely jazz-based beats and melodies, Tribe seemed to find the sweet spot in the genre in the early 90’s and the world would never be the same again.


conglomerateent I had to spend the last 2 days going thru a lot of honest thoughts and emotions b 4 I    spoke because this one hurts soooo fucking much. I can’t begin to explain what @iamthephifer and @qtiptheabstract and @jarobiwhite and @alishaheed means to me and how much they have done for my life. These guys are my big brothers, my friends, and the dudes that always protected me frm the bullshit that came with life both personally and professionally in a way that only big brothers can do it. If u look at this picture closely, on the night of one of my my most magical moments in my 25 year journey in music DEC.5th 2015, I was able to have a dream come true in a way that it never had and that was to perform What’s the scenario (original and the rmx) for the 1st time ever back to back with all of the original members of Leaders of the New School and A Tribe Called Quest since we recorded these songs in 1991 & 1992. That night was so magical with all of the love that was under one roof that it’s too much to get into the details of but again please take another look at this picture, if u notice @iamthephifer had his hand on my back consoling me as I kneeled down to give thanks crying tears of joy because of how proud of a moment that was for me being able to end a 4 hour set with brothers who put me in a position where I was able to tell my mother she will not have to work for anyone over 20 yrs ago. The belief that they had in me puttin’ me and Leaders on that record, putting me last on the record because back then being last on the record meant EVERYTHING, I had no idea at that time what they were setting me up in life to be but thru out the years it was so consistent their love and concern for my well being that it was no way I couldn’t see it. Ever since that concert I have had the opportunity to spend time with Phife way more than I have been able to in over 10yrs. I’ve known this man for over 28yrs and I think I’ve seen him in the last 4 months the happiest that I’ve seen him in a very long time. It was apparent that every wish that he had was coming true and I can honestly say that I was witnessing the anointing from a bird’s eye view 1st hand. Until we meet again King, RIP.

In sports, the outpouring was a geyser.

According to Hip Hop DX, NBA legend Kobe Bryant as especially touched by Phife’s death:

“It’s the passing of a legend,” he says of the A Tribe Called Quest rapper. “He made timeless music. It’s very hard nowadays, with music being so in the moment, what they’ve been able to do is make music that stands the test of time. You can release a Tribe album and it’s just as relevant and hot now as it was then. That speaks to the attention to detail, the genius of their craft.”

Even outside the culture, Phife’s death was impactful and anyone with a voice just couldn’t hold back their grief.

One of the more creative tributes, occurred on the evening news in Atlanta, Ga., when traffic reporters Mark Arum and Fred Blankenship of WSB-TV paid tribute.

I guess, when done correctly, Hip Hop happens and you remember the love that the artist put out into the universe.

To me that was Tribe’s greatest contribution, where most saw only its rough and tough exterior, those of us immersed in the culture, could always bask in the glow of Hip Hop’s uncompromising love.

Ever since Phife “got serious,” Tribe and the 5-foot assassin gave us all the “rough neck business” and the world will forever thank him for it.

He’ll forever be missed and forever be immortal. So here’s to you Phife, you’re a legend and despite, what you thought, it actually could be all about you and what you knew deep in your heart was real. You are another music icon gone too soon who shone the brightest – When Hip Hop Happens.


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