A Tribe Called Quest: 20 Essential Songs

R.I.P. Phife Dawg: Revisit pioneering New York rap crew's best tracks

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"Check the Rhime" (1991)

On the first single from ATCQ's seminal The Low End Theory, Q-Tip and Phife Dawg reminisce about their pre-fame days as teenagers spitting in ciphers on Linden Boulevard in the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens. A slightly accelerated looped rhythm from Minnie Riperton's "Baby, This Love I Have" sets a casual, laid-back mood, with Phife spitting verses as if he were lounging in the afternoon sun, swatting away rivals like flies. "A special shout of peace goes out to all my pals, you see/And a middle finger goes to all you punk MCs," he raps. It's also an assertion of Phife's primacy as a rapper. Some doubted his talent after his halting verses on People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, but here, he quickly proves himself Q-Tip's lyrical equal.

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