Review: Phife Dawg (@IamthePHIFER) Live @TheJazzCafe


Phife dawg I am hip hop magazine

Phife Dawg (A Tribe Called Quest) Live @ Jazz Café

Prov­ing he can still kick it!

A Tribe Called Quest are argu­ably one of hip hops most legendary groups of all time. Pion­eers of ‘altern­at­ive hip hop’, ATCQ moved away from the boom bap sounds of early hip hop to incor­por­at­ing jazzy sounds and Afro-cent­ric rhymes. It is inar­gu­able that ATCQ were hugely influ­en­tial on. For a group that has become almost syn­onym­ous with Q‑Tip, how would Phife Dawg fare in a ven­ue which is known for ‘hip hop posers’?

The even­ing kicked off with the sup­port acts- Mic­all Parkn­sun and Skil­lit. The duo brought a con­coc­tion of heavy beats, witty lyr­i­cism, cha­risma in abund­ance with a side of hip hop philo­sophy. Parkn­sun pro­claimed ‘hip hop is mak­ing some­thing outta noth­ing.’ A wise nod to the roots of hip hop and the insti­tu­tion­al racism which gave birth to this move­ment. The largely middle class audi­ence whooped and cheered, how­ever I sus­pect many don’t know about the Amer­ic­an gov­ern­ment deny­ing the black com­munity to music les­sons in order to fur­ther dis­il­lu­sion them, hence why we turned to altern­at­ive non-tra­di­tion­al instru­ments to make our music. Parkn­sun and Skil­lit impressed me a lot due to their feat of get­ting the crowd lit. At Jazz, the audi­ence nor­mally only comes alive when the main act comes on, how­ever these guys had the dance­floor packed and the crowd bop­ping.

The 21:00 start time of Phife Dawg’s per­form­ance was fast approach­ing. At first it was con­cern­ing me if Phife could pull this per­form­ance off on his own. I inter­viewed him in his hotel room in Cam­den earli­er that day. The first thing I noticed he looked very with­drawn and fatigued, his eyes droop­ing. It seemed that this self-pro­claimed ‘funky dia­bet­ic [s’]’ hec­tic life­style and health prob­lems were now viciously catch­ing up with him.

Phife along with his hype­man came out to rap­tur­ous applause dressed head to toe in a streetwear brand called ‘Trin­i­BAD’, a salute to his Trin­id­a­di­an her­it­age.

Spin Doc­tor hos­ted the Q&A ses­sion with Phife Dawg just before Phife’s per­form­ance. The Q&A ses­sion was a very nice touch and added a very intim­ate and per­son­al atmo­sphere to the whole even­ing. Ques­tions ranged from the more music­al such as ‘How Phife’s Carib­bean her­it­age influ­enced his style? To the more per­son­al ‘How is your rela­tion­ship with Tip?’ To the humor­ous- ‘Do you like em’ brown, yel­low, Puerto Ric­an or Haitian?’ A very fit­ting trib­ute to the icon­ic Elec­tric Relax­a­tion and argu­ably Phife’s most infam­ous lyr­ic.

You could see Phife felt the most com­fort­able per­form­ing tracks from ‘ The Low End The­ory’ reel­ing off clas­sics such as ‘Scen­ario’, ‘Jazz’ and ‘Check the Rhime’ with the same youth­ful fer­vour as back in 1991. Phife later admit­ted to the audi­ence that he felt ‘ The Low End The­ory’ is where he really came into him­self as an MC. Phife can­didly admit­ted that due to only appear­ing on 4 tracks on ‘People’s Insinti­citve Travels and the Paths of Rhythms’, in addi­tion to not being a full time mem­ber of ATCQ, he felt he needed to come hard with their sopho­more album to prove he is not just a sideman.

With­in the crowd you could see the rest­less­ness, the crowd wanted the most baitest tunes from ATCQ’s debut album. Phife saw this and cap­it­al­ised on this with a humor­ous inter­ludes reveal­ing that he in fact des­pises ATCQ’s most fam­ous tune ‘Can I Kick It?’ Appar­ently due to the Lou Reed sample on the track, ATCQ hasn’t received any money from sales. How­ever he did con­tin­ue to per­form it claim­ing ‘That is what y’all paid to see’ and how right he was. He then con­tin­ued to reel hit after hit on ‘People’s Instinct­ive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm’ such as ‘Bon­ita Apple­bum’ and ‘Push it Along’. All of these were well received by the audi­ence and achieved a first of the night- the crowd singing along to every word.

The most poignant moment of the night was when Phife per­formed his trib­ute song (an open let­ter) to the late great J Dilla called ‘Dear Dilla’. It was an emo­tion­ally charged affair and you could see Phife welling up. He once again admit­ted that his death hit him hard. It was such a shame in this mel­an­chol­ic moment was marred by drunk­en requests from the audi­ence for more ATCQ songs.

Phife Dawg’s hype­man tried to cre­ate a buzz for Phife Dawg’s solo sec­tion of the night, where he per­formed tracks of his  debut sole EP Vent­il­a­tion. His hype­man wildly hollered ‘put your J’s in the air and scream for Mr James Yan­cey!’ The major­ity of the crowd were left awk­wardly put­ting their hands in the air and chat­ter­ing amongst them­selves. Phife’s hype­man per­severed and hollered once more ‘put your J’s in the air for J Dilla’. Now the crowd was ignited and roar­ing for Hip Hop’s big man. This moment in the show demon­strated everything that I think is wrong with hip hop con­certs now. It is largely pop­u­lated by audi­ences who are here only for the cool and ‘edgy’ factor of listen­ing to black music, but have no real love or know­ledge of the move­ment. Phife sharply called out the audi­ence by call­ing us ‘whack’, which I whole­heartedly agreed with. Hip Hop audi­ences at estab­lished ven­ues are whack. It’s very sad that true fans of the move­ment just don’t have the dis­pos­able incomes to see some of their her­oes per­form live. Hip Hop is wasted on the wealthy.

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Maya Rattrey

Maya Rattrey

Edit­or / Author at No Bounds
Maya is an aspir­ing writer and revolu­tion­ary whose heart and soul can be found in the Glob­al South. Hav­ing become edit­or of I Am Hip-Hop Magazine at the age of 17, she is keen on using hip hop as a ped­ago­gic­al tool for the oppressed and help­ing fel­low young people into the media industry. Cur­rently a stu­dent, men­tal health work­er and arts facil­it­at­or- Maya brings both her aca­dem­ic and street know­ledge to pro­jects pro­duced by No Bounds.

About Maya Rattrey

Maya Rattrey
Maya is an aspiring writer and revolutionary whose heart and soul can be found in the Global South. Having become editor of I Am Hip-Hop Magazine at the age of 17, she is keen on using hip hop as a pedagogical tool for the oppressed and helping fellow young people into the media industry. Currently a student, mental health worker and arts facilitator- Maya brings both her academic and street knowledge to projects produced by No Bounds.

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