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, Chuck D and Michael Rapaport all recalled the impact and influence of the veteran rapper alongside ATCQ’s Q-Tip, Jarobi and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, who closed the four-hour memorial service with moving, deeply personal eulogies.
The service doubled as a tribute concert of sorts, as rappers and R&B singers blended a mix of the secular and pious. D’Angelo performed a spirited gospel-soul rendition of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” backed by the Roots, while R&B singer Kelly Price belted out the traditional worship song “Because He Lives.” The Roots frontman Black Thought incorporated some of Phife’s most famous lines into one verse and later, KRS-One, flanked by hip-hop pioneers Kid Capri, Grandmaster Flash, Teddy Ted and Special K, honored the rapper with Boogie Down Productions’ “I’m Still #1” and a freestyle about Phife.
Kanye West, a longtime Tribe fan who asked the group to open for him on his 2013 Yeezus tour, took the stage to discuss Phife Dawg’s impact and influence on his own personality and attitude. Below is the complete transcript of West’s remarks.
I might say something wrong as always, but I thought it’d be more wrong not to say nothing. When I see the power in this room…. Low End Theory was the first album I ever bought and I stayed in the suburbs of Chicago with my stepfather. I’d always get into trouble for listening to music during the week and then I would have to go to detention or study hall, but I enjoyed it ’cause I had that Tribe tape and it didn’t really matter how long that walk was.
I think about stories I hear about [Queen] Latifah when she was young; how she knew what she was gonna be in life. I look at the power in this room. I know [Hot 97 DJ Peter] Rosenberg said something about [Led] Zeppelin and you know me: I’m very sensitive about things like this [Crowd laughs]. [Earlier that evening, Rosenberg compared A Tribe Called Quest to Led Zeppelin, calling both groups “timeless music.”] But I don’t want to hear Zeppelin mentioned at Phife’s funeral.
“Tribe made Kanye West. Made the kid with the pink Polo. Made it so I could dress funny.”
One hundred years from now, we’re gonna all be with Phife and this country was built off our back. I live next to the dentist. I stay in a $20 million crib next to the dentist. Dave Chappelle, you know what I’m talking about. We had an event a year ago and I would just go over to Tip’s house like when they was doing Low End Theory and Pete Rock came down. And I be at these events in Hollywood and I be at these events here and I’m looking at how many more people inspire us and the walls that we have on our finances. Out in Hollywood, everybody got a mink coat and $500,000 car. And it’s the way the music industry was set up was that all the people that run the industry and sign everybody from out of Queens, the Bronx, southside of Chicago, Atlanta make sure that they get that crib.
I’m sorry, but that’s what was on my fuckin’ mind when I was sitting here thinking about how much these people inspire me and how powerful the influence of the music was and how it made that walk to study hall so short. How it meant everything. It is everything. Music was stolen from us and corporatized and anybody that spoke up was demonized. Anything I ever did wrong, blame Tip and Phife ’cause y’all raised me.
I don’t want to hear about Led Zeppelin tonight. Every time y’all started the rap, you give me one line of “Scenario,” I’ll do the whole joint all the way through. Y’all made it okay in a city of Al Capone — number one murder capital city — for me to be me. Tribe made Kanye West. Made the kid with the pink Polo. Made it so I could dress funny. I’m not sorry if I said something wrong.
[Consequence] know. He said honor and maybe there wasn’t no punch lines with it. Me and Cons were on the same thing, sitting at Baseline Studio. We ain’t never stopped; cameras on/off, we ain’t never stop. Honor. Honor that work. That influence. That ability to chop that sample. That ability to put that rap together. Honor that.
Maybe it ain’t no David Stern that figured out to turn everybody in rap to multi-millionaires the way they turn ballplayers to multi-millionaires. But they got to honor it. I’m picturing the Grammys right now, it’s going to be a real quick [tribute]. Short, like when the Michael Jackson joint was short. Or when you get to Michael Jackson status, somebody say, “Aw, you crazy ’cause you said the truth out loud.” You get in trouble for the truth.
Honor, man. They gotta honor us; honor what hip-hop is. It should not be surprising to you when the sports announcer [Scott Van Pelt] was influenced by Tribe. That should not be a surprise! That’s the absolute truth!
I love y’all and I’m not sorry. Rest in Peace to Phife Dawg.