I want to start this piece of by stating that A Tribe Called Quest is one of my favorite hip hop groups of all time. Wu-Tang comes in as a close second, but if I had to pick I would go ATCQ any day of the week. Their music just works and no matter how many times I hear their songs, I never get sick of them. Whenever I feel sad, want a quick pick me up, or just need to bug out, A Tribe Called Quest always does the trick.
My awareness of A Tribe Called Quest was always peripheral throughout the majority of the early to mid 90s. I knew of them and I knew a few of their songs, but didn’t really feel the urge to investigate. Then randomly one day I heard “Bonita Applebum” in the background on MTV and it clicked, but this happened in 1999 and it was too late. ATCQ had already broken up, but I still needed to dive in.
The next day I went out and bought their greatest hits collection, The Anthology because I was new to A Tribe Called and figured a hits compilation was the best place to start. Well, it definitely was, The Anthology basically transferred from CD player to CD player for the better part of 99. In hindsight, the majority of ATCQ’s songs are straight gold, but when you take the best of the best and stick them all on one compilation you’re basically dealing with 100% dopeness. The Anthology was so good in fact that I was pretty content keeping this as my only A Tribe Called Quest album for close to eight years (pathetic, I know). In my defense though, this compilation is sequenced better than almost any album of all time. The choice to start it off with “Check the Rhime” was genius, because that song is all that is great about ATCQ wraped up into one tiny little, under four minute jam. Its got everything you need, the back forth between Q-Tip and Phife Dawg along with the signature jazz infused sample based beat from Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Its perfection really. The next two songs that follow are “Bonita Applebum” and “Award Tour”need I say more? I am not going to continue to break down the track-list of The Anthology, I’m just trying to give an excuse as to why it took me long to move on to the individual A Tribe Called Quest albums.
Then at a party one night I heard “Da Booty” off of The Love Movement and once I realized it was A Tribe Called Quest, I knew it was time to dig into their catalog. What I discovered was the best back catalog of hip hop I had ever experienced. With the exceptions of like maybe three of four tracks it was a superb (I can’t stand “Scenario” though, sorry don’t hate me). Literally every song on their first three albums is amazing and the last two albums are far superior to any other hip hop acts later career output.
If I had to pick a favorite album, it would be Midnight Marauders because every single song on that album is flawless. There’s not one jam that comes across as stale, lacking, or boring. Just fourteen tracks of laid back, smart, and creative hip hop. In my mind this album can’t be beat and ranks as one of my favorite albums of all time. If “Jazz (We’ve Got)” would’ve ended up on this album instead of the previous album, Low End Theory I think that it would’ve transcended time and space and ended up in the fourth dimension, but A Tribe Called Quest probably knew that some how by seeing into the future so they released the song separately.
After discovering ATCQ’s back catalog and cherishing it more and more every year I became an even bigger fan and had put them up in the trophy case as one of the all time greats. Then in 2011 a group of us went to a free showing of ATCQ documentary, Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest and while I loved learning the back story / history of the band, it kinda bummed me out that the Q-Tip and Phife Dawg had recently not been on the best of terms. I knew that there was some beef with them after Q-Tips first solo album, but I thought it was kinda swept under the rug. The two sound like they’re best friends when they are rapping together so I just figured that the reason that that A Tribe Called Quest broke up was just because the group had run its course. So while I enjoyed the documentary, I kinda wished I hadn’t seen it because it ruined my perfect image of the group in my mind.
At this point, you are probably starting to wonder what this has to do with Phife Dawg’s passing and to be perfectly honest I have no idea.
I don’t really want to get into pointing out all of Phife Dawg’s sweet ass verses in various A Tribe Called Quest songs, because I don’t really view their songs as individual efforts. To me they functioned as whole. I don’t really have an exciting stories or any out of the ordinary experiences to tell about the group. Living in SLC and being late to the game I never got to see ATCQ live and the only minor interaction I ever had with Phife Dawg was that he followed the site’s Instagram account after I basically stalked him and double tapped all his random sports posts. There wasn’t much hope for any further experiences or interaction either as ATCQ’s members have been fairly silent for the most part with the exception of the reissue activity.
I read rumors that Phife Dawg had some solo stuff coming out whether it was the long awaited full length, Songs In The Key Of Phife: Volume 1 (Cheryl’s Big Son) or the recently talked about EP Give Thanks. I wonder if those projects will get pushed out now in some form or another. I know he was sick and had received a kidney transplant, but 45 seems like a really young age to die. I knew there wasn’t ever going to be another A Tribe Called Quest album or tour (maybe they would’ve gone on a full tour to promote the reissues if Phife Dawg’s health would’ve been better).
Regardless of his recent output or activity I was still saddened to hear about his death this morning and I know that I am not necessarily contributing to the conversation of his legacy or whatever, but I felt like writing something down. I guess I wanted to share my own experience and discovery of A Tribe Called Quest’s greatness and Phife Dawg’s lyrical mastery as a way to say thanks to him for being a part of such an amazing group and having a part in creating some of my favorite songs and albums of all time.
Thank you Phife Dawg, R.I.P.
A Tribe Called Quest for life!