Phife Dawg: An Untouched Legacy

Written by Michael Bruins

Hip-Hop continues to inspire, innovate, and shape the cultural soundtracks of our society.  It speaks a language of the people while providing a creative lens for expression and discourse.  With the passing of time comes the dreadful occurrence of losing legendary pioneers that have helped to positively impact and carve the complex and socially constructed legacy of hip-hop.

The recent passing of Phife Dawg, a member of the iconic group A Tribe Called Quest stands as a painful reminder that the lanes once created by the headliners of hip-hop’s golden era have remained largely vacant. An even sadder reality is that those missing voids are most likely not going to be filled anytime soon or at least in the same capacity that existed in the past, the same can also be said for contemporary R&B.

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Talented inventive artists still exist but in 2016 you have to search deep in the trenches of the internet and local open mic nights to find them. Can you believe there used to actually be a time when creative showstopping acts were saturated in the media outlets?  Long story short the world of hip-hop has changed.   This is largely due to the economic shift of the music industry, the commercial exploitation and watering down of hip hop, the death of independent radio, the demise of many record labels, the limited outlets for exposure, and the lack of artistic development.

“I love hip hop but at the rate it’s going right now I could do with or without it” – Phife Dawg

Univision Radio's H2O Music Festival

<> at Los Angeles State Historic Park on August 17, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.

If you’ve ever had the feeling of disappointment after learning your favorite local restaurant was going to be turned into a yoga gym, then you understand the frustration of seasoned die hard hip-hop fans when it comes to the current music industry.

It’s important that we continue to showcase the accomplishments of hip-hop greats like A Tribe Called Quest so that their legacy can carry and set the standard for what’s to be expected in the future.  As a way of paying tribute to the life and memory of Malik Taylor also known as Phife Dawg, CINEMATIQ Magazine has composed a collection of qualities that contribute to why A Tribe Called Quest is so heavily cherished and respected by the hip hop community.

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There Are Artists With Hits, And Then There Are Artists With Classics.

Where do we begin?  In the span of less than 10 years A Tribe Called Quest penned a collection of music that is still so culturally relevant today. “Check the Rhyme”, “Bonita Applebum”, “Scenario”, “Electric Relaxation”, “Buddy”, “Description of a Fool”, “Find a Way”, “Award Tour”, “Can I Kick it?” and those are just some of their singles.  Within their albums there are some really groundbreaking tracks, especially on the “Low End Theory” and “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm” album.

Speaking of their albums, all five of their studio releases offer a unique and different experience for listeners.  Listening to “The Love Movement” will have you questioning if this is the same group that made the “Midnight Marauders”.

Empowerment Through The Native Tongues Posse

Remember when rappers actually got along for the most part and established families and crews? Native Tongues Posse was a collective of rappers and artists aimed at empowering those within the community by spreading love, forward thinking, and embracing knowledge.  Members included A Tribe Called Quest, The Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, Queen Latifah, Monie Love, Black Sheep, Lucien Revolucien, Chi Ali, and a list of other talented acts.

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Jazz Meets The Turntables

A Tribe Called Quest was able to successfully utilize elements of of Jazz, Blues, Soul, Funk, R&B, and Hip Hop to create a distinct sound that set them apart from their peers.  Debuting in a era owned by the New Jack Swing and House sound, A Tribe Called Quest offered listeners a more laid back and melodic sound that was saturated in artistic musicality.  This was greatly displayed during their MTV Unplugged performance in 1991.

Sprouting Roots

It’s always great to see the long term impact created by talented entertainers.  If you’re a fan of producers and entertainers like  Pharrell Williams, Kanye West, Common, Lupe Fiasco, Talib Kweli, Pusha T,  Andre 3000, The Roots, Mos Def, J  Dilla, & John Legend consider yourself a fan of A Tribe Called Quest.  All of the listed acts site them as a major influence to their careers and sound.

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Industry Contributions 

Even when venturing on to solo endeavors and individual services the impact of A Tribe Called Quest if present throughout the industry.  Phife Dawg serves as the opening voice into TLC’s blockbuster diamond selling “CrazySexyCool” album.  Q-Tip appears in Janet Jackson’s critically acclaimed song and video “Got Til It’s Gone”.  Ali Shaheed Muhammad is one of the originators of the ambassadors of Neo Soul collective Lucy Pearl.  Even today you hear the samples and sounds of their music sprinkled all through out hip hop and R&B. And their sound wasn’t just limited to music, the tunes of A Tribe Called Quesst were fluid all throughout television and film.  Shows like New York Undercover and The Wayans Bros were hubs for their music.

lyrics. Lyrics.. LYRICS…

Phife Dawg and Q-Tip had a strong pen game.  The clever use of metaphors and the unconventional approach to lyrical delivery gave A Tribe Called Quest an edge when it came to pulling in multiple and new audiences.

Mr. energetic, who me sound pathetic…When’s the last time you heard a funky diabetic? -Oh My God

When was the last time you heard the Phifer sloppy?…Lyrics anonymous, you’ll never hear me copy…Top notch baby, never coming less…Sky’s the limit, you gots to believe up in Quest. -Award Tour

I be three albums deep, but i don’t wanna go pop…Too many candy rappers seem to be at the top…Too much candy is no good, so now I’m closing the shop –We Can Get Down

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Serving as a Balance

The message and content of A Tribe Called Quest appealed heavily to many different groups but was strong enough to be respected by all audiences.  Their imaging made it ok for rappers to be left field from the societal norms of the industry.  They’re unique approach to hip-hop placed them in a category where they could fit in with pretty much any hip-hop entity.

They were deep enough to be in the same tier with acts like Public Enemy, cool enough to played on the same playlist with party acts like Heavy D and Father MC, yet intriguing enough to be enjoyed by listeners who worshiped incense burning acts like Soul 2 Soul, Brand New Heavies, Arrested Development.  Their imaging created a lane for rappers who didn’t always rock gold chains, serve as the liaisons for the streets, or come off as sex symbols.  They were just simply those guys from around the way that were cool to hang with.

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Phife Dawg will be greatly missed, but we’re heavily appreciative of the legacy and work he put forth for the hip-hop community.

Rest in Power Phife Dawg.

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