I’m still processing Phife‘s passing last week (3/22), playing my A Tribe Called Quest collection and re-watching the Beats, Rhymes & Life documentary. I only met him a handful of times -the same way I met most of my hip-hop hero/peers during my active rap years, as an opening act or host of underground shows. But ATCQ was so big to me, that I’ve been impacted to contemplate my own life, mortality and art. There are lessons in Phife’s legacy.
He was my age and ageism in hip-hop is a tricky issue -notions and conflicts of reverence vs. relevance. It’s often come up in my meetings and conversations with the greats, through my TV/media work, and was a factor in my decision to almost completely suspend my own rap activity. But Phife’s passing (along with those of J-Dilla, Baatin, Sean Price, DJ Timbuck2, Praverb and others) reaffirms two major life lessons -take care of yourself and practice your passion for as long as you can.
I was really moved by Busta’s heartfelt Instagram tribute. Leaders of the New School and ATCQ both suffered youthful infighting and break-ups, so to see the members of both groups matured, reunited and recently rocking onstage was awesome. With Phife gone now, I can only imagine how much more precious that moment has become for Q-Tip and the other surviving participants. I’d still love to see a full Native Tongue reunion with Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, Black Sheep, etc. Camaraderie, reconciliation and celebration of shared legacy are beautiful.
Common’s Instagram tribute was no less heartfelt, but it hit me differently because he recounted a shared memory. We were together in NYC when we first met ATCQ (and other favorite artists). I was once a member of the pioneering Chicago hip-hop collective* that included him, No ID, Twilite Tone and manager, Derek Dudley. Common’s post triggered memories of good times, but also of our own crew’s infighting, and that I’m still often misrepresented in his accounts of our shared history. Re-watching the BR&L doc (focusing more on Phife) reminded me that it’s exhausting to navigate complex, conflicted relationships with old friends you’d really rather build with.
I appreciate the early liner notes inclusions and contributions** to my small, independent releases. Today we’re always cordial and professional. The occasional shout out feels good and I’m open to new collaborations. I’m philosophical about my Mikey D-like rap status (too many past aliases and affiliations only helped my obscurity), but I’m blessed to have found other fulfillment and I’m happy to be in a place where I still feel creative and motivated. Real talk…
Thanks Phife, for the inspiring parallels and valuable lessons of your incredible journey. Rest in peace and power bro, salute.
“I never walk the streets think[ing] it’s all about me, even though deep in my heart, it really could be. I just try my best to like go all out, some might even say -yo shorty black, you’re Buggin’ Out!“