Phife Dawg was a 45 year old MC from Queens, New York who came up in the mid-80’s alongside childhood friends Q-Tip as well as Ali Shaheed Muhammad & Jarobi White when they formed A Tribe Called Quest. They would go on to become one of the most well respected groups in hip hop history with a discography that pretty much speaks for itself, especially The Low End Theory & Midnight Marauders. But after The Love Movement came out in the fall of ‘98, the group disbanded & Phife put out his solo debut Ventilation: Da LP at the beginning of the new millennium to moderate reception. Tribe eventually got back together 15 years later by recording their swan song We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service following their performance on Jimmy Fallon in secrecy & Phife passed from type 2 diabetes right before it was finished. The end result was my 3rd favorite Tribe album & now to commemorate the 6 year anniversary of his death, DJ Rasta Root is overseeing a posthumous effort from the 5 foot assassin & giving it to the world.
After the “Cheryl’s Big Son” intro, the first actual song “Only a Coward” is peppy boom bap jam produced by 9th Wonder talking about acting your own age whereas “Fallback” with Rapsody goes into more soulful territory thanks to Khrysis talking about not knowing how to act around their crews. The remix of the J Dilla produced “Nutshell” is superior to original down to the newly added Busta Rhymes & Redman verses just before “Sorry” comes through with a smooth ballad to his other half hooked up by Nottz.
Meanwhile on “Dear Dilla”, we have Phife delivering a touching open letter to the late hometown producer with Q-Tip delivering an emotional ass hook leading into “Wow Factor” works in some dusty drums & a vocal loop to show off some phenomenal wordplay. “Residual Curiosities” goes into a cloudier direction to show his appreciation for the Cory of Detroit, but then “God Send” talks about life’s curveballs on top of some horns & a funky bass-line.
After the heartfelt spoken word poetry that Phife’s mother Cheryl Boyce-Taylor delivers during the “Round Irving High School” interlude, the track “French Kiss Trois” with Redman & Illa J is basically a 2nd remix of a joint on the latter’s eponymous sophomore album while the penultimate song “2 Live Forever” by Little Brother& Posdnuos finds the 3 on top of some summery guitar kicks & glistening pianos to talk about how much they miss the 5-Foot Assassin. The title track then ends the album on an orchestral note touching down on eternity with “Ms. Jackson”sample during the scratch hook.
Now that Rasta Root has finally given us Phife’s swan song, I think it bittersweetly shows that his significance to the culture will live on until the end of the time from the touching performances to the organic production. Long Live the Funky Diabetic!