Phife Dawg, one of the founding members of seminal hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, died Tuesday at the age of 45 after a battle with diabetes. Many musicians and artists honored the star with messages after his death.
Among them was Roots drummer Questlove, who shared a heartfelt remembrance of the late musician on Instagram. Writing about A Tribe Called Quest’s 1991 song “Scenario,” Questlove noted, “I swear to god THAT was the moment I knew I wanted to make THIS type of music when I grew up.”
The drummer’s lengthy Instagram post focuses on his first experience listening to Tribe’s second album, The Low End Theory, which closes with “Scenario.” He recalls that on a rainy fall day in 1991 he purchased multiple Miles Davis albums — the jazz titan had recently died — but also picked up The Low End Theory. “The only non jazz purchase I made that day ironically was the most jazziest album in that collection,” he writes.
After a lighter section explaining “the frustration that was CD packaging in 1991,” Questlove describes his first listen of the classic hip-hop album. “The sign of a true classic is when a life memory is burnt in your head because of the first time you hear a song,” he notes. Specifically, he calls Phife Dawg’s verse on one of the album’s songs, “Buggin’ Out,” “a gauntlet/flag planting moment in hip-hop … HE. CAME. FOR. BLOOD & was taking NO prisoners on this album.”
Phife forever 1970-2016. 1991 in Sept I went to visit Tariq at Millersville U in the middle of PA (Lancaster). Miles Davis had just passed & I went on a binge to study his post jazz works. Went to Sound Of Market to purchase Nefertiti, In A Silent Way & Live Evil—the only non jazz purchase I made that day ironically was the most jazziest album in that collection: #TheLowEndTheory by @ATCQ. —it was raining that day so somehow the 1…2 punch of "Nefertiti"/"Fall" just had me in a trance that train trip—even though I suspected there was a possibility that Tribe could possibly have made a better album then their debut (the perfect @@@@@ mic Source rating would be on stands in a week so I was right)—but I knew I wanted to save that listening for when I got up to the campus w Riq.—so some 90mins later when I get to his dorm–we ripped that bad boy open (I can't describe the frustration that was CD packaging in 1991, just imagine the anger that environmentalists feel when all that paper packaging in Beats headphone gets wasted—it's like that)—the sign of a true classic is when a life memory is burnt in your head because of the first time you hear a song. —Riq & I had this moment a few times, but the look on our faces when we 1st heard "Buggin Out" was prolly Me & Tariq's greatest "rewind selector!" moment in our friendship. (Back then every MC's goal was to have that "rewind!!!" moment. As in to say something so incredible. Or to catch you by surprise that it makes you go "DAAAAAYUM!!!"& you listen over & over—Malik "Phife" Taylor's verse was such a gauntlet/flag planting moment in hip hop. Every hip hop head was just…stunned HE. CAME. FOR. BLOOD & was taking NO prisoners on this album (or ever again) we just kept looking at the speaker on some disbelief old timey radio Suspense episode. & also at each other "Phife is KILLIN!"–by the time we got to "Scenario" I swear to god THAT was the moment I knew I wanted to make THIS type of music when I grew up–(yeah yeah dad I know: "go to Juilliard or Curtis to make a nice living at "real music") but he didn't know that Phife & his crew already wrote my destiny. I ain't look back since. THANK YOU PHIFE!
Kendrick Lamar also paid tribute to Phife Dawg at a concert in Sydney, Australia. “We lost one of the pioneers of hip-hop today by the name of Phife Dawg,” he told the crowd, before thanking the legend “for allowing me to do what I’m doing on this stage, right here, right now, today.” Lamar then led the audience in chanting the rapper’s name.
Other current hip-hop musicians shared their thoughts about Phife Dawg on social media. Public Enemy’s Chuck D called him “a true fire Social Narrator” and Talib Kweli noted that “today is a dark day in hip-hop.” Jive Records labelmate E-40 said Phife Dawg was a “solid & talented dude” while El-P and Big Sean also offered condolences. Even the office of New York City mayor Bill de Blasio said “goodbye to a true Queens legend,” noting that “A Tribe Called Quest blessed our city with beats, rhymes, and life.”