The iconic Apollo Theatre in New York City played host last night to an evening of celebration in honour of the late rapper Phife Dawg, who passed away a fortnight ago following complications from diabetes. The tremendous impact that the A Tribe Called Quest MC had on hip-hop hasn’t been understated in the wake of Phife’s death, with scores of people from all walks of life (musicians, WWE wrestlers, local traffic reporters) paying tribute to the Five-Foot Assassin.
Last night’s four-hour event presented the opportunity for some of music’s biggest names to come together to remember the life and career of Phife, with eulogies, collaborative performances and freestyles in abundance. Here are some of the highlights from the evening.
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Ye gave a eulogy for Phife that largely praised his work with ATCQ, revealing that the group’s second album ‘The Low End Theory’ was the first record he ever bought.
“I stayed in the suburbs of Chicago with my stepfather,” he recalled. “I’d always get into trouble for listening to music during the week and then I would have to go to detention or study hall, but I enjoyed it ’cause I had that Tribe tape and it didn’t really matter how long that walk was.”
“Anything I ever did wrong, blame Q-Tip and Phife, ’cause y’all raised me,” Kanye continued. “Tribe made Kanye West. Made the kid with the pink Polo. Made it so I could dress funny.”
Watch video of the full speech below.
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The rarely-seen Outkast man delivered a touching tribute to Malik that touched on the huge influence that Tribe had on himself and Big Boi, recounting how the group’s cypher track ‘Scenario’ even helped them get a record deal.
Here’s some excerpts from his speech, which is transcribed in full over on Rolling Stone.
“Man, it’s about Phife. I wasn’t prepared to say anything, but it’s like, “Outkast would not be Outkast.” When we got our deal, we rapped for [Outkast producer] Rico Wade in the parking lot. The only thing me and Big [Boi] had was “Scenario” on cassette and we rapped for days, just going. And in high school, my first rap name was Jhaz because of these niggas. It was J-H-A-Z; I don’t know how I was thinking I was spelling that shit. [Crowd laughs.] Because of “Jazz (We’ve Got).” We would sit in high school and be like, “Man, we love them.”
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I’m going to say some interesting news and some disappointing news at the same time. About a year or two ago, we were talking about doing a Tribe Called Quest and Outkast album. Yeah. For whatever reason, it did not happen. I don’t want to let the time go by, because you never know. And that’s one of the biggest things about regret. Whatever reason we didn’t do it, it was on our plate and we just… let it go for our own personal reasons.
I don’t have no big message or speech or nothing but just, “Keep that shit going.” And Tribe meant everything to me. They are everything. It’s always, “Who are the greatest groups?” Fuck that shit. [Points to Tribe Called Quest.] This dude [Q-Tip] taught me what kind of rapper I wanted to be. My first rap, I remember it now, it was “Young and naive/Alive I keep the dream/Writin’ funky lyrics at the age of 16.” I wrote it because of you. [Points to Q-Tip.] I didn’t even know what the word naive meant. [Crowd laughs.] Q-Tip taught me words. “Elation.” I’m sitting in high school like, “Damn I gotta look this shit up.” “I’m filled with elation.” Ohhhhh, okay. We can use these words too? We can be smart? Yeah, man. He gave me fuel. And I gotta give the young niggas fuel. We gotta quit hatin’ on each other. To Phife.”
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The hip-hop band performed a number of times during the evening, with frontman MC Black Thought delivering a freestyle over a jazz-tinged instrumental – a fitting choice of genre, given ATCQ’s love of jazz samples.
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The ‘Black Messiah’ man performed Carole King’s ‘You’ve Got A Friend’ with The Roots, putting a poignant gospel-soul spin on the original.
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A Tribe Called Quest
The surviving members of Phife’s group took to the stage together to deliver emotional individual tributes, sharing fond memories of their departed bandmember.
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The full event also appears to be looping in full on YouTube on the video below: