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 The first thing I noticed he looked very withdrawn and fatigued, his eyes drooping.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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