I wasn’t expecting from A Tribe Called Quest based on their first single, “I Left My Wallet In El Segundo”. It was a dope single and video but I wasn’t sure about the album. And then I listened to the album. Then I couldn’t stop. I was literally going through painful withdrawal for the three years before their second album, The Low End Theory, dropped. Tip, Ali, Phife and Jarobi reminded me of my own homeboys. They were a reflection of myself, of my crew, of the green-lawned and tree-lined streets of Fairfax Village, Washington DC that were a bit more treacherous than they appeared. And then there Phife.
In character Phife was the older brother to Outkast’s Big Boi. His words and stories were grounded, slightly street, and less mystic and poetic than Q-Tip. Phife was the classic little guy with the big ego. And on ATCQ’s second and third records he was the fire to the fluid loops that fueled the group’s sound. When I met him with some of my own boys after he did a surprise performance at the Morehouse talent show in ’94 it was like meeting a head of state. My man B gave him his beat tape at got Phife’s number. It was like all of us were on the phone with him the few times B got him on the line. But now he’s gone.
Tribe’s discography didn’t finish as long as it started. But Phife was also the spirit of the group. Even in illness he carried himself with a swagger that Dwayne Johnson might bow to. On those high school Friday nights when I wrote before rounded up my boys for whatever was cracking, “Excursions” and “Butter” were on every mix I piece together. When I learned about his passing my tears were for ALL of us. The quartet I’d hoped to see return to my earbuds is now no more. And so are those times… Letting him move on was doing the same with my own past and even the niche where I wore a crown for a short little while.