A look back through Phife Dawg's most memorable 16s.
It's a sad day when you lose one of the great MCs to ever do it. Malik Isaac Taylor, known to us as Phife Dawg, was an essential part of the golden era of hip hop, lending his voice to classic records alongside Q-Tip in A Tribe Called Quest. The group would release multiple classic albums in the 90s, and although tension divided the band, they'd eventually reunite, most recently on Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show. Tracks like "Can I Kick It?," "Check The Rhime," "Scenario," Award Tour," and so many others exist as some of the greatest rap records ever made.
As we say goodbye to Phife Dawg, it's important to reflect on the incredible impact he and his band had on our culture. Let's remember the Funky Diabetic through some of his most iconic performances on wax.
"Can I Kick It?"
A Tribe Called Quest are widely regarded as the group that brought jazz into hip hop. "Can I Kick It?" sampled Lou Reed, not an inherent jazz musician, but the upright bass does lean that way, especially when set to the boom-bap drums of the production. Q-Tip kicked it off with a stellar verse before Phife pops in...
"Can I kick it? To my Tribe that flows in layers Right now, Phife is a poem sayer At times, I'm a studio conveyor Mr. Dinkins, would you please be my mayor? You'll be doing us a really big favor Boy this track really has a lot of flavor When it comes to rhythms, Quest is your savior Follow us for the funky behavior Make a note on the rhythm we gave ya Feel free, drop your pants, check your ha-ir Do you like the garments that we wear? I instruct you to be the obeyer A rhythm recipe that you'll savor Doesn't matter if you're minor or major Yes, the Tribe of the game we're a player As you inhale like a breath of fresh air"
"Check The Rhime"
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Although disagreements plagued the duo in later years, it's important to remember how ill the chemistry was between Phife and Tip back in the day. After they trade lines in the beginning, each MC has their chance to flex solo. You on point Phife? "All the time Tip!"
"Now here's a funky introduction of how nice I am Tell your mother, tell your father, send a telegram I'm like an energizer cause, you see, I last long My crew is never ever wack because we stand strong Now if you say my style is wack that's where you're dead wrong I slayed that body in El Segundo then Push it Along You'd be a fool to reply that Phife is not the man Cause you know and I know that you know who I am A special shot of peace goes out to all my pals, you see And a middle finger goes for all you punk MC's Cause I love it when you wack MC's despise me They get vexed, I roll next, can't none contest me I'm just a fly MC who's five foot three and very brave On job remaining, no home training cause I misbehave I come correct in full effect have all my hoes in check And before I get the butt the jim must be erect You see, my aura's positive I don't promote no junk See, I'm far from a bully and I ain't a punk Extremity in rhythm, yeah that's what you heard So just clean out your ears and just check the word"
"Jazz (We've Got)"
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A couple classic Q-Tip verses sandwich one of Phife Dawg's finest moments on "Jazz (We've Got)." The group always embraced the jazz, and it ended up being a serious part of their legacy.
Phife raps this one with some patois, referencing Jah and Shabba Ranks as he locks into the pocket.
"Competition dem try fe come side way But competition they must come straight way Competition dem try fe come side way But competition they must come straight way How's about that, it seems like it's my turn again All through the years my mic has been my best friend I know some brothers wonder, can Phife really kick it? Some even wanna dis me, but why sweat it? I'm all into my music cos it's how I make papes Try to make hits, like Kid Capri makes tapes Me sweat another? I do my own thing Strictly hardcore tracks, not a new jack swing I grew up as a Christian so to Jah I give thanks Collect my banks, listen to Shabba Ranks I sing, and chat, I do all of that It's 1991 and I refuse to come wack I take off my hat to other crews that tend to rock But the Low End Theory's here, it's time to wreck shop I got Tip and Shah, so whom shall I fear Stop look and listen, but please don't stare So jet to the store, and buy the LP On Jive/RCA, cassettes and CD's Produced and arranged by the four-man crew And oh shit, Skeff Anselm, he gets props too Make sure you have a system with some fat house speakers So the new shit can rock, from Bronx to Massapequa Cos where I come from quality is job one And everybody up on Linden know we get the job done So peace to that crew, and peace to this crew Bring on the tour, we'll see you at a theatre nearest you"
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Alongside the likes of Leaders of the New School (Busta Rhymes, Charlie Brown, and Dinco D), A Tribe Called Quest made a classic cut with "Scenario." Phife sets the pace with a killer sixteen, dropping jewels like "bust a nut inside your eye to show you where I come from" along the way.
"Heyo, Bo knows this and Bo knows that But Bo don't know jack, cause Bo can't rap Well what do you know, the Di-Dawg, is first up to bat No batteries included, and no strings attached No holds barred, no time for move fakin' Gots to get the loot so I can bring home the bacon Brothers front, they say the Tribe can't flow But we've been known to do the impossible like Broadway Joe, so Sleep if you want, NyQuil will help you get your Z's, troop But here's the real scoop I'm all that and then some, short, dark, and handsome Bust a nut inside your eye to show you where I come from I'm vexed, fuming, I've had it up to here My days of paying dues are over, acknowledge me as in there Head for the border, go get a taco Watch me wreck it from the jump street, meaning from the get-go Sit back relax and let yourself go Don't sweat what you heard, but act like you know"
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Take a trip down memory lane with these extended Phife Dawg verses. This Low End Theory cut proves that the Funky Diabetic got crazy game and is indeed smooth like butter. He boasts about his women-a-plenty before Q-Tip assumes the microphone over a super-jazzy hook. Phife takes double duty on this one, a bit of a rarity on Tribe material, but very nice when it happens.
"1988 Senior Year, Garvey High Where all the guys were corny but the girls were mad fly Lounging with the Tipster, cooling with Sha Scoping out the honeys - they know who they are I was the b-ball playing, fly rhyme saying Fly girl getting but never was I sweating Cause when it came to honeys I would go on a stroll Until I met my match - her name was Flo Yeah, I messed around with the one called Flo All the troopers round the way used to call her a ho But deep down in my heart I knew that Flo was good to go Cause I thought it was me like Bell Biv Devoe But little did I know that she was playing with my mind The only thing I learned is good girls are hard to find I feel like Heavy D I need somebody for me Not someone whose mind is blank and trying to juice me for my banks Swinging with my main man Lucky behind my back What type of crap is that - yo, how's about a smack? Word life, I can't front, thought I was all that But now it seems, I've met my match I was a stone cold lover, you couldn't tell me jack Settling down with one girl, wasn't trying to hear that I had Tonya, Tamika, Sharon, Karen, Tina, Stacy, Julie, Tracy Used to love 'em, leave 'em, skeeze 'em, tease 'em Find 'em, lose 'em - also abuse 'em My whole attitude was new day, next hon And believe it or not, they all got done Well here comes Flo, with the crazy whip appeal And I'm all true man, like Alexander O'Neal Is this really love, then again how would I know After all this time trying to be a Super Ho She finally played me, but yo I'd find another Cause I got the crazy game and yo, I'm smooth like butter"
"I remember when girls were goodie two shoes but now they turning freaks All of a sudden ("We love you Phife") Ease off ho, my name's Malik Phife this, Phife that, where you going, where you at These girls don't know me from jack, yet I feel like the Mack You didn't want me then, so yo hon, don't want me now Here, Here - take the towel, wipe off your brow And take the contact out your eye, you're far from looking fly You get an E for effort, and T for nice try Now tell me what's the reason, for dying your hair Slum village gold still dangling in your ear You barely have a neck but still sporting a rope Four-finger ring just so Phife can scope You looked in the mirror, didn't know what to do Yesterday your eyes were brown but today they are blue Your whole appearance is a lie and it could never be true And if you really liked yourself then you would try and be you If your hair and eyes were real, I wouldn't have dissed ya But since it was bought, I had to dismiss ya But if you can't achieve it, then why not try and weave it If you can't extend it then you might as well suspend it If you can't braid it, best thing to do is fade it I asked who did your hair and you tell me Diane made it If you were you and just you, talk to you, maybe But I can't stand, no bionic lady Trying hard to look fly, but yo, you're looking dumber If I wanted someone like you I would've swung with Jaime Sommers You wanna be treated right, see Father MC Or check Ralph Tresvant, for sensitivity Cause I am not the one, I got more game than Parker Brothers Phife Dog is on the mic and I'm smooth like butter"
The first notes of "Award Tour" are as recognizable as anything in hip hop. Q-Tip rides first on this one, setting his partner Phife Dawg up to bring 'em home with a phenomenal second verse.
"Back in '89 I simply slid in the place Buddy, buddy, buddy all up in your face A lot of kids was busting rhymes but they had no taste Some said Quest was wack, but now is that the case? I have a quest to have a mic in my hand Without that, it's like Kryptonite and Superman So Shaheed come in with the sugar cuts Phife Dawg's my name, but on stage, call me Dynomutt When was the last time you heard the Phife sloppy Lyrics anonymous, you'll never hear me copy Top notch baby, never coming less Sky's the limit, you gots to believe up in Quest Sit back, relax, get up out the path If not that, here's a dancefloor, come move that ass Non-believers, you can check the stats I roll with Shaheed and the brother Abstract Niggas know the time when Quest is in the jam I never let a statue tell me how nice I am Coming with more hits than the Braves and the Yankees Living mad phat like an oversized mampi The wackest crews try to diss, it makes me laugh When my track record's longer than a DC-20 aircraft So, next time that you think you want somethin here Make something def or take that garbage to St. Elsewhere"
"8 Million Stories"
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You ever have one of those days where everything is just going wrong? So did Phife. He turned it into a stellar track, doubling down on the verses to create one of the essential Phife Dawg recordings.
"Went to Carvel to get a milk shake This honey ripped me off for all my loot cakes The car oh yeah there's money in my jacket Somebody broke into my ride and cold macked it Yo Tip I tell you man the devil's tryin it But I'm goin to stay strong cause I ain't buyin it Tonight I'm taking Sherry out, I don't have jack to wear You know I gots to look dipped in the fresh new gear Cool I found something so I ironed it I then got caught up on the phone, oh shit, I'm frying it Will someone tell me what did I do to deserve this? I think I'll, pull out my suit for Sunday service My little brother wants Barney, cool, I'm gettin it Took him down to Kay-Bee, they ain't sellin it Here we go with the crying, yo he's throwing fits My blood pressure's blowing up, I can't take the shit Finally got what he wanted, now he's good to go Again the ride was smashed, where's my radio? One time, the car was in the shop I had to borrow see... They had no mercy on the car, Lyor will kill me Where the hell can Nicki be? I'm gonna smack her up I got the tickets for the Knicks and she cold stood me up I need to hit a honey off, Jarobi pass the phone Pulled out my book of hoes, oh yo, Sheila's home Steady smiling like a mother yo I'm read' to bone Went down on hon, she's in the red zone Stressed out more than anyone could ever be Forever tryin to clear the samples for my new LP Everybody knows I go to Georgia often Got on the flight and I ended up in Boston With all these trials and tribulations, yo, I've been affected And to top it off, Starks got ejected"
"Just last week my girl was stressin me Now her best friend be undressing me Well I was loving her by the moon ray Now I'm tricking on her like Kinte' (c'mon) Bought a bag of izm from the smoke shop Walking towards the car, here come the damn cops Now I'm station bound for the Thai sticks I bought it for my man, I don't believe this shit Coach sat me down from the ball team Cause I was breaking niggas on the inseams Some niggas cross town was trying to stick me All I had was shorts, a dollar fifty Picked up this girl in the hooptie Just because I rhyme she tried to soup me Pay for this, pay for that, loot for nails and hair Who the hell you think I am, Mr. Belvedere? Go and get a bloody job, then can we look cute Even if you give me boots, you'll never see my loot She wasn't even all of that just another hooker So I turned that ass away, quick like Chuckii Booker Sometimes you got put the hoes in their friggin' place Just move from in front me with your botty face!"
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It's too nice when Tip and Phife trade off short verses like this, setting each other up like Pippen and Jordan in their prime. Tip kicks a little something before giving Phife the assist, "Ayo my man Phife Diggy, he got something to say..."
"I like 'em brown, yellow, Puerto Rican or Haitian Name is Phife Dawg from the Zulu Nation Told you in the jam that we can get down Now let's knock the boots like the group H-Town You got BBD all on your bedroom wall But I'm above the rim and this is how I ball A gritty little something on the New York street This is how I represent over this here beat Talking 'bout you (Yo, I took you out But sex was on my mind for the whole damn route My mind was in a frenzy and a horny state But I couldn't drop dimes cause you couldn't relate"
Later on he kicks this one, revisiting the Patois we heard in "Jazz (We've Got)"...
"Original rude boy, never am I coy You can be a shorty in my ill convoy Not to come across as a thug or a hood But hon, you got the goods, like Madelyne Woods By the way, my name's Malik The Five-Foot Freak Let's say we get together by the end of the week She simply said, "No", labelled me a ho I said, "How you figure?" "My friends told me so" I hate when silly groupies wanna run they yap Word to God, hon, I don't get down like that"
And finally he wrecks it with these four:
"If my mom don't approve, then I'll just elope Let me save the little man from inside the boat Let me hit it from the back, girl I won't catch a hernia Bust off on your couch, now you got Seaman's Furniture"
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The self-proclaimed 'five-foot freak' gets dirty on "Hot Sex." He kicks it off over this funky-as-hell beat, dropping plenty of punchlines over the course of his verse.
"Ayo who wanna pull on Phifer long time no hear from Suckers walkin' around talking about they could get some But that pop is non cypher, no can do And if you think I'm a dope, then ask the other crew And I proceed to let you know, exactly how to flow I'm not Lawn Doctor so just step off with the ho Oops my mistake I didn't know you went with her Should I run down the line of the all the kids that done hit her Don't be bitter, I hear that honey resembles a critter I heard she likes the two on one like my man John Ritter But back to the subject you can't catch wreck You must get respect, to earn respect Suckers think they could herb me cuz know I where specks You're full of jokes, but you your name ain't flex I got the riches, the bitches, I'm large like a Huxtable You think you're all that but you're girl's quite doable Yeah, I'm tellin' you G, to back up off me I'm not a mad cohort, but I'm not Mr. Softee Rappin' is an art, coming straight from the heart So forget the chart because the action can start"
"Oh My God"
If you want a glimpse of early hip hop culture, peep the video for "Oh My God." Over something so jazzy that only Tribe could pull it off, Tip and Phife each take a verse before Busta Rhymes uses his signature growl to let you know the name of the song.
"1 for the treble, 2 for the bass You know the style Tip, it's time to flip this I like my beats hard like two day old shit Steady eating booty MCs like cheese grits My man Al B. Sure, he's in effect mode Used to have a crush on Dawn from En Vogue It's not like honey dip would wanna get with me But just in case I own more condoms than T.L.C Now the formula is this: me, Tip, and Ali For those who can't count it goes 1-2-3 The anti batty boy, big up is who I be Brothers find this hard to do but never me Some brothers try to diss but Malik, you see 'em bitching Me no care about them dibby MC, my shit is hitting Trini gladiator, anti-hesitater Shaheed push the fader from here to Grenada Mr Energetic, who me sound pathetic? When's the last time you heard a funky diabetic?"