Hundreds of fans, friends and family members of Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor gathered at New York’s Apollo Theater Tuesday night to pay tribute to the A Tribe Called Quest rapper who died at the age of 45 last month.
Busta Rhymes, Kanye West, Chuck D and Michael Rapaport all recalled the immense legacy of the veteran rapper alongside ATCQ’s Q-Tip, Jarobi and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, who closed the four-hour memorial service with moving, deeply personal eulogies.
The service doubled as a tribute concert of sorts, as rappers and R&B singers blended a mix of the secular and pious. D’Angelo performed a spirited gospel-soul rendition of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” backed by the Roots, while R&B singer Kelly Price belted out the traditional worship song “Because He Lives.” The Roots frontman Black Thought incorporated some of Phife’s most famous lines into one verse and later, KRS-One, flanked by hip-hop pioneers Kid Capri, Grandmaster Flash, Teddy Ted and Special K, honored the rapper with Boogie Down Productions’ “I’m Still #1” and a freestyle about Phife.
Despite ostensible stylistic differences, Outkast’s Andre 3000 told the crowd that ATCQ was a major influence on the group, especially during their formative years. Below is the complete transcript of the rapper’s remarks.
Man, it’s about Phife. I wasn’t prepared to say anything, but it’s like, “Outkast would not be Outkast.” When we got our deal, we rapped for [Outkast producer] Rico Wade in the parking lot. The only thing me and Big [Boi] had was “Scenario” on cassette and we rapped for days, just going. And in high school, my first rap name was Jhaz because of these niggas. It was J-H-A-Z; I don’t know how I was thinking I was spelling that shit. [Crowd laughs.] Because of “Jazz (We’ve Got).” We would sit in high school and be like, “Man, we love them.”
I’m going to say some interesting news and some disappointing news at the same time. About a year or two ago, we were talking about doing a Tribe Called Quest and Outkast album. Yeah. For whatever reason, it did not happen. I don’t want to let the time go by, because you never know. And that’s one of the biggest things about regret. Whatever reason we didn’t do it, it was on our plate and we just… let it go for our own personal reasons.
Influence. Influence is really important. In the same way that we’re here because of you all, and it’s totally true. Man, our label tried so hard to make us Tribe. [Crowd laughs.] In our bio — we didn’t write the shit — they called me the poet and Big Boi the playa like it was some “Southern Tribe” shit. We didn’t like it; we just wanted to rap. But they wanted us to be Tribe so bad and we loved them niggas so bad, we were like, “We’ll be a street Tribe.” We’ll be robbin niggas. Imagine me tryin to rob a nigga. [Crowd laughs.] We wanted to be “hood Tribe.” I guess that’s what we ended up being, in a way.
But influence. I had a conversation with Tip and it shocked the shit out of me. One day, he said, ‘When y’all came out as Outkast, I knew that the tides had changed. I knew rap had changed.” And I knew what he was talking about because when I see [Lil] Wayne and Young Thug, I’m like, “Ohhh, I can’t keep up with that shit. It’s so dope.” It’s the connection. They’re them because of us and it has to keep going. All this old niggas hatin on the young niggas, that shit got to stop. It’s all music. It’s all influence. It’ll keep going because we’re all connected.
I don’t have no big message or speech or nothing but just, “Keep that shit going.” And Tribe meant everything to me. They are everything. It’s always, “Who are the greatest groups?” Fuck that shit. [Points to Tribe Called Quest.] This dude [Q-Tip] taught me what kind of rapper I wanted to be. My first rap, I remember it now, it was “Young and naive/Alive I keep the dream/Writin’ funky lyrics at the age of 16.” I wrote it because of you. [Points to Q-Tip.] I didn’t even know what the word naive meant. [Crowd laughs.] Q-Tip taught me words. “Elation.” I’m sitting in high school like, “Damn I gotta look this shit up.” “I’m filled with elation.” Ohhhhh, okay. We can use these words too? We can be smart? Yeah, man. He gave me fuel. And I gotta give the young niggas fuel. We gotta quit hatin’ on each other. To Phife.