Hundreds of fans, friends and family members of Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor gathered at New York’s Apollo Theater Tuesday night to pay tribute to the A Tribe Called Quest rapper who died at the age of 45 last month.
Busta Rhymes, Andre 3000, Kanye West, Chuck D and Michael Rapaport all recalled the immense legacy of the veteran rapper. But it was the rapper’s Tribe Called Quest groupmates Q-Tip, Jarobi and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, who closed the four-hour memorial service, that delivered some of the most moving, personal eulogies. Below is the complete transcript of the group’s remarks.
Phife is crazy because we travel a lot; we’d go to all these different cities, and you usually go to a city and know one person. Phife would go over the world and he would have his own enclave. It’s a true story. [Laughs] Phife is… he was my best friend. My brother and I’m not sad at all. The only thing that it’s hard to deal with this is how my life changes from this point forward. [Pauses]
Life is terrible. Life is awful and the smallest, littlest pieces of joy can be found along the way. Phife is the only person that I’ve [speaks through tears] ever known who won. He won. We went to ESPN and that’s what he wanted to do most of his life. We got to see a game in [Madison Square] Garden for boxing because he hadn’t been in the Garden since they rebuilt.
The most important thing: We got to hang and repair. These are music groups and shit, which is bullshit. That’s not what we are. That’s our job. But more than anything, we’re brothers. The person who Phife was or who he is and y’all know who the people here who he’s touched. The one thing about him, he’s an example of friendship, love, loyalty.
And I just wanna say, yo, um, just like his lesson, I love y’all niggas and we’re gonna ride out.
Ali Shaheed Muhammad
Crazy love to Cheryl, Walt and to Deisha, David. [Pauses] There’s so much and not enough time, just like life. [Pauses] When Q-Tip aka J Nice [crowd laughs] used to bust Jimmy Spicer’s “Super Rhymes” in class, I knew that was my brother. I thank him all the time for everything that he has done for me. I never thanked him for introducing me to Malik and Jarobi ’cause you don’t really do that sort of thing. Coming from Brooklyn, for all the Queens cats, and everyone in the world who swears that I’m Queens.
Specifically, when I met “‘Lik Ice.” Sorry, Malik. He definitely was a little gritty something off the New York streets and he wholly represented so much of the character of someone who’s small but mighty. As his mom spoke yesterday and shared with people who were at his service, he let me know this and it helped me to understand him. He was a survivor from birth. Twin, preemie, so out the gate, he’s a warrior.
A Scorpio warrior. People misunderstand sometimes the power of that little insect and see it as threatening ’cause it’s poisonous. But no, let me just say for Phife’s persona, he was poisonous with words and not only in a rhyme style. If you really was intimate with Phife, he would not hold his tongue. [Crowd laughs] But that’s because that little guy, warrior, mightier, has so much love. Which means it needed to be guarded with something potent and powerful for that which went against love. Anything in this life that goes against love, we all should fight it.
“I understood Phife’s ferociousness because it was coming from a place of love.” – Ali Shaheed Muhammad
That’s Malik to me. It’s strange coming in here and having Chuck D speak about us and Grandmaster Flash, because I still have my autographed picture of them guys when I was 15 when Uncle Mike was working at Columbia working those Public Enemy records. Chuck taught us so much and brought us on our first major tour and was the example of how to be a successful artist by taking this seriously. You know, as [Peter] Rosenberg said, he met Malik in a hotel lobby. It’s not always girls and all the parties and all that. It is that. That comes with it, but there’s a responsibility to it. Chuck D taught us. He brought us in and everyone on the tour, security, staff, talent and said, “I’m responsible for each and every one of your lives.”
“I am. I’m responsible if something happens to you and I’m the one that has to go to your mom.” Now when you’re 19, you can take that two ways: You can be frivolous with it or you can really let it settle in. We, the four of us, let it settle in. Leaders of the New School were there as well and so, there became the crossover from dreaming to use our talents to help support the block, family or whatever, to being able to do more than that. And Malik was part of that. Coming into this room, it felt like, oh, judgment day? Because you see so many people you haven’t seen since I was 18, 19. And it’s surreal to come in here knowing that we celebrate Malik, but part of that celebration is what we’ve done together. And so… it’s, I cannot explain. It’s very surreal watching all these things and I’m like, “Well, I’m still here.”
But, just to go a little bit deeper into Malik and his fierceness and roughness and being large in a small person’s body. Lots of times, he would be upset with me, and Malik and I never had beef, except when I was say, “Phife, you can’t really say that.” [Crowd laughs.]
Like, the Creator’s given him a way with words and the Creator’s giving me a way with seeing the big picture. And Kamaal had a big picture and it was to be able to use our talents to go touch the world, and we wanted people to come in and be friendly and not be intimidated. And so sometimes Phife would go there, like, “You can’t. You can’t say that. Can you find another way to say those words? Just a little more gently, little more kinder…”
And he did it in his own way, which we all have come to know. And with that, he was able to stand on my shoulders to do his thing. [Pauses] Him leaving before the three of us means he’s standing up seeing something. He’s able to see something and touch it and it was tough hearing about that, but I know that he’s now going through this and bringing my brothers. So, I’m gonna miss him. And being able to hear the words that I heard today… this room is filled with love and joy and only Malik could do that. It’s such a potent, powerful way because he loved so deeply that in defense of it, it hurt some people and he’s not a hurtful, malicious dude.
Hopefully, when we walk outta here, there’s people that you had might not have seen in a long time, that you keep in touch with them and that you walk and love constantly, because the opposing forces to love are constantly is trying to kill love. And we see it in our music today. And we can sit on the sidelines and go, “Mmm. Not really feeling that.” Or we can really do something about it. And so, be loving, it doesn’t take much. You don’t have to be like this crazy… Just go out there to affect the world with love. Kanye West, I love you. You might not have known but I have said in other interviews, that you’re my hero.
It’s a matter of having understanding things. I understood Phife’s ferociousness because it was coming from a place of love and wanting to see his people. He wanted to see New York City remaining to be champions in the golden light of hip-hop. He wanted to see the world — go for it — and be the highest of what you could be. LL, love you, there’s so many people in here. The Violators, Dell Thompson, Chris, Ali. So many people. Afrika from the Jungle Brothers, Mike Gee of the Jungle Brothers. Charlie Brown… There’s so many people. Almighty Zulu Nation.
Just continue to spread that love. And love is hard, I mean, like, “Bust a nut inside your eyes so you can see where I’m coming from.” Like that’s… [Crowd laughs] That’s a mighty…ballsy… [Crowd laughs]… thing to say. That’s Malik not really giving a fuck. Kanye understands. You got to not give a fuck sometimes when you know that where you live, where you coming from is from a beautiful place. You might have come from darkness and ugliness and that’s all you see, but you step above that to see God’s glory and grace.
That’s who Malik Izaak Taylor is to me. We’ll miss him but if y’all carry that message of love in your life and mean it to the people, like I said, when I came in, I felt like it was judgement day because there’s people I haven’t seen in a long time and I think, “This is what it’s gonna be, huh?” Lord. “Oh, you? I didn’t offend you…” Oh. I didn’t offend you so I’m like, “Ah man, okay. It’s looking somewhat good?” I’m in a room full of people that I didn’t offend, alright, maybe? But you never know that small, little thing. It could be that one person that you just really killed an opportunity to cleanse your soul. It ain’t easy to love when you’re in situations like the music business, ambitious. Have to sell your own, literal blood brother, pull out a pistol and put him in the ground type of business that we live in.
So there’s lots of opportunities to let love not cleanse us. Do everything within your power. When you’re challenged, take a breath. There’s something that I heard at my mosque one day, “The dog has his tongue out when it’s running so it can’t control whenever it sees food, sees drink, it wants to…” The creator gave us conscience; a set of teeth to hold that tongue back for a moment… you could be having a very specific reason for wanting to [Makes “UHH” noise]. But just take a moment to breath it out, against your brother, against a stranger, that much, could be the one thing a thousand years from now they go, “That’s what changed the world. For the better.”
Malik, in his stature, was this long but the stuff that came out of his mouth was universal. I love you Malik, I love you Kamaal, I love you Jarobi. Peace.
First of all. I hope that God continues to anoint everybody in this room with His mercy, His grace, His love, and if there’s ever points in life that we feel like we don’t understand, I hope that we know that on the Father we can call. And that he’s all-knowing in all lives.
And I send my love [Pauses] to [Phife’s parents] Cheryl and Walt. I’m sorry, that’s probably the first time I’ve ever called you guys by your first name [Laughs].
I thank you for gifting to be selfish – me with my best friend, my brother, and I thank you for gifting the world with such a voice, a talent and an energy. And especially during those times and those trials that I’m sure that the both of you had to go through – the hurdles and whatever society laid out for the both of you – that God brought you together for the purpose, probably for Phife. I thank you both.
“He left me with what brotherhood is. He left me with what partnership is.” – Q-Tip
And I thank grandma who a lot of you may not know, but she was the rock. One of the amazing things about women that us men don’t have is that women have the ability to… I don’t know how to say it, but they could work from both sides of their brain because not only do they physically go through the act of giving life, but then they also have to secure it as well and they have to outthink sometimes and assess situations and see things before.
And grandma was just such a woman in the house. When I was growing up, around the way at a very early age, I got into a lot of trouble at school and my mother didn’t really like it. And my sister could attest to it, and my mother yanked me out of public school and second grade, and then the next year third grade. My mother spoke to Malik’s grandmother, actually, and she was the one who really encouraged my mother to put me in that school that I went to.
And I’d already known and got along famously with Phife, but that even secured it … Our whole crew that we went to school with and that’s such an important group to not only who Malik and I were to what many of you may know as Tribe, but just as boys. And, my thoughts and my prayers are with all of his classmates ’cause I know you guys are grieving as well. My love to my sister Gwen — my big sister— who used to go to the jams and her best friend was this girl Toi and she used to go to the house and she became [rapper] Sweet Tee.
They used to come to the crib and go up to Harlem World and they used to go the jams. And my sister took me to my first block party on 119th Avenue, right on the back of Phife’s grandmother’s house. It was 1976 probably. And Grandmaster Flowers was DJing, I don’t know if y’all know who he was.
“My Goodness, what else do you have to talk about?” And my mother in the back, [Imitates mother’s voice] “Get off that phone!” You know? [Crowd laughs]
“And we also have to remember to hold each other up. That’s what Phife would’ve wanted.”
That was our thing. We were just music. Aw man, when we found out that in our neighborhood that there was a Run-DMC walking and breathing blocks away and LL, lived right by my father’s mother’s crib. And when he said on the record, “My name is Cool J, I’m from the rock!” Me and Phife … we lost it.
We definitely wanted to be Run. I mean, who doesn’t? That’s like the archetype. Like, that’s who we wanted to be. But in terms of that pen, it was LL. And for him to be here, it’s just such an inspiration. To have a brother from the neighborhood, it’s just crazy.
But aside from all of that, and all the wonderful things that people have been saying about Phife, I especially want to bring the focus back to the family because I can’t imagine, especially mom. Your strength is [pauses] You gave that more than anything. More than the talent, or the poetry, gave that to Malik. I watched it; I seen it.
That dude, yeah, he was a fighter, he was feisty, he was all of that. But like I told you, he fought for joy. He fought for that happiness. And for a long time, when we were coming up, I would fight for him because it’s quite naturally that people wanted to pick on somebody they think it’s small. He could definitely handle himself but I loved him and sometimes he would look at me like, “Man I can…” Like step back kind of thing.
And that kind of dynamic carried over into our group and there were a lot of things that I had to look at myself at in terms of my relationship with him, in terms of having more hands off and just like letting go, letting go, letting go. He’s just such the person that you wanna take care of, you wanna handle, you wanna ask him if he needs anything because his spirit and his energy is just so driven and focused. It’s such light that you attract to it.
“[Phife] was a fighter; he was feisty. But … he fought for joy.”
And having [Phife’s wife] Deisha there — And to see that relationship and that dynamic play itself out to where it is. It’s just amazing how the same relationship dynamics in his life play out. Whether it be you with him and then me with him, and then Deisha. It’s so amazing to watch and to see and it’s still going on because although his physical is gone and it’s something we’ve all been saying, he’s still here with us; his presence is still here.
He left me with just appreciating what a real brother is ’cause I have my sister. I love my sister and we elbow and battle. But I love my sister. But he was my brother for real. He left me with what brotherhood is. He left me with what partnership is. He left me with what a highly creative relationship is. He left me with being able to be self-effacing ’cause that’s what he was. He left that with all of us. He left us with a mountain of music.
It’s not lost on us and when we look around and we hear, whether it be Andre  or Kanye or Consequence or [Grand] Puba here or KRS. All of our hip-hop family is here and a lot of that has extended into beautiful friendships and brotherhoods, and we need to continue that. When we think about Tribe, Tribe is not just the three of us standing and the four of us. It’s all of us. We’re all the tribe. That was our whole idea.
“Tribe is not just the three of us standing and the four of us. It’s all of us.”
You know that African proverb, “It takes a village.” We lived in a neighborhood in Queens where it was very progressive. We had a mosque there; we had Assata Shakur posted up. We had a Panther thing over there. We had a lot of the Five Percenters. We had a lot of things in that neighborhood, but it was certain that if a little kid back then was messin’ up and somebody did something wrong and, I don’t mean to offend anybody, but we would get our behind beat while they taking us to our mother or father and then they would beat our behind [Laughs].
And I say that just in similar in that it takes a village. We need to continue to lift each other up. We can’t let this moment be forgotten. We have to also let this moment power us to the next moment, that if it’s God’s decree and God’s declaration. And we also have to remember to hold each other up. That’s what Phife would’ve wanted. And I believe Phife would have wanted us to keep going. And we have to continue not only his work but as individuals, take value and inventory of our life and where we’re at. And don’t be afraid to call on somebody if you’re in pain or call on somebody if you need help or go to The Word.
Don’t be afraid when somebody loves you that they give you that word. We have to continue as a tribe, everybody in here. We have to continue to feed each other and love each other and let love be the movement, pardon the pun.
But I miss my brother so much, man, as I’m sure that we all do. I know that we’ve held some times that’s so beautiful to be standing here on this stage that we’ve performed on a few times. It’s crazy as you get older and sometimes you come back to places and it tends looks smaller sometimes. But this doesn’t; it just still feels big and to be able to be here and be in Harlem with so much history, so much energy. There’s so many kings and queens that stood here on this stage and walked through those doors and for us to be here in this community.
I don’t know if a lot of you are Harlemites or have been OG Harlemites. But see what they’re doing to the neighborhood. See what they’re doing, look around to the gentrification that’s happening in the neighborhood. If you have the ability to hold on to something and own it, talk to your fellow member in your tribe about that and you all do it together. Let’s keep this community with this history, with this energy flowing.
And thank you Phife to and Father for bringing us here at this moment because now Father has Phife and his flesh is there and he’s good. He’s in joy. He’s in the loving arms and we’re still here because obviously we have more to do.
So we have to stay busy. We have to stay busier than the devil ’cause the devil is busy, the devil’s agents is busy. They don’t sleep. They just keep going. We have to go even harder and if we feel like you’re getting weak, call your brother and your sister and get that strength so that we can all keep going man as a tribe. Love you Cheryl and Walt, family, friends. Love y’all.