Towards the end of ATCQ’s “Vibes And Stuff” off their clasic The Low End Theory album, Q-Tip dedicates the song to all the fallen rappers. This is my dedication to the fallen Founding member of A Tribe Called Quest Malik Isaac Taylor, better known as Phife Dawg. The underrated emcee and producer lost his unfortunate battle with diabetes earlier this morning (Mar. 23), and we’re still in disbelief.
Throughout the last 20 years of his career, Phife established himself as an expert lyricist amongst his group of fellow esteemed wordsmiths Q-Tip “The Abstract”, DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White. He crafted an overabundance of quotable bars that have become the foundation of the Queens-based rap collective’s eternal legacy. The 5 Footer was always on point with his rhymes (right Q-Tip?), and did the most to exceed his status as an staple in hip-hop.
Phife’s only solo album Ventilation: Da LP gave loyal ATCQ followers a better understanding of his magnetic aura and blunt personality that we’ve come to know and love. With gritty records like “4 Horsemen” and “D.R.U.G.S” featuring DJ Hi-Tek, Phife proved he could stand alone as a dynamic musician who refused to switch his style up to follow passing trends.
After hopping on records with Fu-Schnickens, Diamond D, and Chi-Ali, Taylor started to work on his second solo album Muttymorphosis before he passed away. In 2014, Phife Diggy dropped off his sonic dedication to J Dilla called “Dear Dilla” — and followed up with a clip of his forthcoming single “Nutshell” last fall, both of which were supposed to be featured on his new album.
As VIBE mourns Phife’s loss, we can’t forget the life lessons he taught us through his intricate verses. His unforgettable lyrics and bold contributions to hip-hop will live on to influence the next generation of emcees and producers. In light of his tragic passing, VIBE pays homage to Phife Dawg by honoring our favorite 5 solo tracks from The 5 Foot Freak’s lengthy career.
Rest In Power Phife Dawg.
“His Name Is Mutty Ranks” (1998)
In the early days, Phife Dawg rarely had his solo tracks make the final cut for ATCQ albums, except for one. “His Name Is Mutty Ranks” is the only song Phife spits solo on ACTQ’s final studio album The Love Movement.
“All that shit you pop in your jams, it won’t matter
Bust your whole grill, now watch that joint shatter
I’m the Captain of the ship, FUCK a William Shatner
Emcees be poppin shit when they squeezin they cake batter
Claimin they style be fat, but guess whose style is fatter?
The ill beat jacker, emcee attacker.”
“Just When You Thought You Were Nice” (1999)
Phife and Dilla’s working relationship was unlike any other rapper/producer team. Although they weren’t an official duo, their studio sessions would result in some of the best work Phife has done since his early years with ATCQ. “Just When You Thought You Were Nice,” or as its formally known as “Thought You Wuz Nice,” didn’t make it to Phife’s Ventilation album, but you can still find the vinyl somewhere in the deep depths of the Internet.
“Gots to do this cause I love this, so mother fuck the fame
Gotta represent with the correct mindframe
Since the day that De La put me on, hip-hop has never been the same”
Ventilation prod. by Fredwreck (2000)
Phife flaunts his unbreakable confidence on the title track of his solo album Ventilation: Da LP. The Trinidadian descendant tackles the Fredwreck instrumental with full force as he unleashes his aggressive flow and shoots defensive bars at any rapper willing to stand up to him.
“What the fuck, you thought the Diggy was a pussy nigga
Or better yet (What!) I ain’t have it in me nigga
Man please, I wax emcees of all types and variations
While you jerk artists and put out bogus compilations”
“Ben Dova” Prod. by J Dilla (2000)
They didn’t call him The 5 Foot Freak for nothing. Phife Dawg lets loose and keeps it gully with the chicks he’s trying to smash. With J Dilla on the beat, “Ben Dova” is one of his more upbeat and comical records off Ventilation: Da LP.
I won’t hold it against you the things that you do
I’ll just have you know that I’m a lesbian too
So wiggle your ass here and swing over them titties
If you need to pay bills take your ass to Magic City
No need to act shitty, you’re so so saditty“
“Dear Dilla” ft. Q-Tip Prod. By Dj Rasta Root (2014)
In 2014, Phife’s last major single dropped a tribute to producer James “Dilla” Yancy. In the song produced by DJ Rasta Root, Phife speaks to Dilla eight years after his passing and tells him about a (now ominous) dream he had about him and Dilla being in the same hospital room. He said that Dilla made him feel at peace once the legendary producer pulled out his MPC and began to cut tracks together in their final moments. After he vents about his thoughts on the new generation of hip-hop, Phife says his last words to Dilla as if he was standing right next to him.
“Dilla dude still crackin’, they wish to be like you
Producer extraordinaires, knowing their beats be recycled
But on your worst day they couldn’t mess with you
Cats makin Ts in remembrance of you
Least they could do is give your fam a dime or two
This man gave his heart, this what the fuck y’all do?
But yo don’t stress my you, word bond we got you
Tell Baatin I said whats up, word he right next to you?
So NYC to the D with heavy hearts we miss you”