The outpouring of love and respect from the hip-hop community for the late A Tribe Called Quest founder Phife Dawg is still coming in. Brooklyn rapper Talib Kweli recently paid tribute to the 5-Foot Assassin in a touching essay for Billboard.
In the essay, Kweli reveals that it was the Native Tongues that made him want to become a rapper.
“The Native Tongues crew is the reason why I rap today. Hip-hop was woven into the fabric of New York City when I was growing up and I was drawn to the magnetic beauty of graffiti and breakdancing, but the Native Tongues connected with me in a unique way,” he writes. “The music they made was for the mind, body and soul. The Jungle Brothers, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest were the cool kids at the high school lunch table of my life. They are who I wanted to hang out with when I grew up.”
From there, the “Get By” rapper chronicles ATCQ’s musical legacy in hip-hop. He cites the group’s iconic albums – People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm…, The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders – as the gateway for people to embrace hip-hop culture.
“Midnight Marauders may be the album responsible for getting more people into hip-hop than any album before and after it,” he added. “It’s a flawless piece of work, and the reputation that Phife began to build on Low End Theory was expanded on greatly while recording Midnight Marauders.”
Elsewhere in the letter, Kweli celebrates Phife’s punchy, lyrical style. “When I first heard Phife rap ‘when’s the last time you heard a funky diabetic?’ on ‘Oh My God,’ I winced,” he notes. “It was so brutally and beautifully honest of a lyric, it made my body react.”
In the end, Kweli credits Phife Dawg for being an original and repping hip-hop to the fullest.
“Phife Dawg was authenticity in the flesh,” he writes. “Loyal to a fault and fiercely protective of this culture we call hip-hop, Phife embodies the very best of us. The Trini gladiator, the anti-hesitator — Phife will forever be a part of the reason for the music I love and make a living from. And for that, I owe him the world.”
You can read Talib Kweli’s entire tributary letter at Billboard.com.