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 Elese

Maya Elese

Edit­or / Author at No Bounds
Mul­ti­lin­gual Lon­don born, bred & based print & broad­cast journ­al­ist, presenter, DJ & cul­tur­al pro­du­cer with a par­tic­u­lar love for glob­al afro-dia­spor­ic cul­tures. @mayaelese on everyth­ang.

About Maya Elese

Maya Elese
Multilingual London born, bred & based print & broadcast journalist, presenter, DJ & cultural producer with a particular love for global afro-diasporic cultures. @mayaelese on everythang.

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