Phife Dawg’s Spirit & Legacy Remain A Powerful Presence, 1 Year After His Death
On March 22, 2016, Phife Dawg (born Malik Taylor) passed away due to complications with kidney disease, itself a result of his lifelong battle with diabetes. The A Tribe Called Quest rapper and radiant Hip-Hop personality left behind a legacy not easily calculated in words. However, over the course of the last year, a number of remarkable outpourings of love have helped ensure that Phife Diggy’s memory will live on beyond his music. From a timely new album, worldwide artwork, an honorific street-naming ceremony, and powerful performances on Saturday Night Live and the Grammys, the five-foot-assassin from Queens was all around us, and his spirit lives on.
In the days following his death, Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi released a statement on the loss of their brother and groupmate, saying “His music and what he’s contributed is seismic and hard to measure.” In an open letter, longtime friend and frequent collaborator Busta Rhymes poured out his grief in remembrance of Phife, writing ” I’ve known this man for over 28 years and I think I’ve seen him in the last four 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.” Q-Tip echoed the sentiments in April, taking to Twitter to share anecdotes about Phife including “I miss my lil brotha so much right now…. He is my hero. I’ve never seen such a fighter.”
Tip said those words on the day before April 5’s Celebration of Phife memorial service, which took place at the legendary Apollo Theater. The selection of that hallowed ground as the site of his farewell spoke directly to his impact on the world of music, and the evening was filled with poignant speeches. The event was even live-streamed, so fans from around the world could watch as André 3000, Kanye West, KRS-One and more spoke about the effect Phife’s lyrics, friendship, and simple presence had on their own lives. Without A Tribe Called Quest, said 3 Stacks, “Outkast would not be Outkast.” He then implored us all to “please people, do not let the time go by. This is now one of the biggest things I regret” in response to the untimeliness of Phife’s passing at the far-too-young age of 45.
The Hip-Hop community seemed to absorb André’s message, and in July, it was announced that Phife Dawg was going to have his very own street named after him, making it impossible for time to go by in Queens without there being a constant, steady reminder of the late icon’s presence. In November, it all came to fruition with the official unveiling ceremony, which involved the direct contribution by the City of New York, another major indicator of just how important Phife Dawg is. The block of Linden Boulevard and 192th Street was officially named Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor Way on November 19, in a ceremony that was filmed. Nearby, a vibrant mural in honor of A Tribe Called Quest was visible, but the work on it began months before, in July. In a video produced by Okayplayer, the months-long process in the design and creation of the huge piece of street art was documented.
But perhaps the greatest tribute to Phife Dawg came in the form of, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service, A Tribe Called Quest’s first album in 18 years. It arrived on November 11, just two days after Donald Trump’s election, and one could quite literally feel the LP’s collective importance coursing through the veins of music fans. Containing the group’s most political statements to date, the album is also home to some of Phife’s final recordings. It’s safe to say that hearing his voice during such a tumultuous time served as a salve of sorts, allowing for some catharsis during an otherwise unsettling period.
It was a critical and commercial success for the group, becoming their first number-one album in 20 years. In the days following its release, A Tribe Called Quest served as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live, where Phife Dawg was front and center. In a moment of overwhelming significance, a banner dropped from the rafters featuring Phife’s likeness. His presence was undeniable, and it remains one of the most touching tributes in the show’s musical history. Similarly, at the group’s explosive performance at this year’s Grammy Awards, a microphone stand was placed on stage in honor of Phife, whose voice plays a central role in “We The People.” While performing the song, Tribe (and some friends) lit the awards ceremony on fire, igniting a fierce social critique that reverberated throughout the theater.
One year after the world lost Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor, retrospective looks at the life and career of a giant abound. In celebration of both, Ambrosia for Heads is revisiting some of his lesser known works, including “If Men Are Dawgs (Then What Are You),” a rarely heard white-label release from Hong Kong Recordings.
Also on rotation today is a vintage freestyle from the five-foot freak, labeled “style considerations.” Heads may recall seeing the snippet in the 2005 documentary film The Art of 16 Bars. In it, KRS-One comments on what make Phife Dawg “the essence” of rhyming, and Common also shares some remarks.
As the world keeps turning and time keeps moving, we continue to celebrate Phife Dawg.