Friday, March 25, 2016

Dawg Day Afternoon

All right, welcome to the Friday Funeral. This one hits close to home: the first person I've had to tribute that's passed away younger than I am right now.
Wednesday one of the founders of maybe one of the ten greatest hip-hop acts ever passed away after a lifelong battle with complications from diabetes. His name was Malik Taylor, aka Phife Dawg. The group was A Tribe Called Quest, and from 1990-96 they helped to invent the modern genre as we take it for granted today.
There wasn't anything close back then.... I know because I was there. As a part of one of the pre-eminent college radio stations in the US, we got all these records before they came out, and those first and second Tribe jams from 1990/91 were never far from the playlist.
It was pretty magical back in the Golden Age (I call it 1987-92), when the art form was being refined and its edifice was being laid back then. Groups like Public Enemy, De La Soul, Black Sheep, Brand Nubian, X-Clan, EPMD and ATCQ took the medium from its beginning years and matured it, and when you put one of those records on you got the impression you were listening to the cutting edge of something new and extremely powerful.
The advent of the Akai S-1000 sampler in around 1988 really changed what was possible and these bands didn't hold back. They took the early-1980s rap cornerstones like Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataaa and The Furious Five, filtered it through the breakthrough commercial sounds of the mid-Eighties (Run-DMC, LL Cool J and the like) and massively diversified the possibilities in both subject matter and soundscape.
You'd trip into NYC on a Friday night and DJ Red Alert on WBLX would pump 5 hours of the very finest into the car. There were many nights when you wouldn't make it out of the vehicle and to where you were trying to go, because the music wouldn't let you leave. In many ways, this was and could be the last era of innovation in pop music. Everything since is just not up to the standard those years and times set. Not close.
A Tribe Called Quest may have been the best of them all. This is where the Jazz samples really jumped off in hip-hop -- that's de rigeur now, but it certainly wasn't in 1989. They might be the only hip-hop act ever to have Jazz contrabass legend Ron Carter sit in with them... for an entire record.
But back to Phife, without whom ATCQ's flow would have just been Q-Tip's astrally travelling journeys into esoteric rhymes-n-references. Someone once said that without Phife in there, they would have been on Pluto, but he took them back to the Moon and therefore within Earth's range of hearing. This is impossible to disagree with, and having his Earth contrasted with Tip's space is truly one of the most perfect combinations ever witnessed in the genre.
The guy suffered with diabetes for his whole 45 years, but truth be told if you're only gonna live to be that age you may as well pack it with a great and world-altering life, as the man certainly did. Those records form a kind of basis of something and point in a million different creative directions and they will be played in 1000 years.
To tribute this guy, gone too soon but leaving a huge mark, please paste your eyes and ears to what for all intents and purposes may be the last song ever performed by A Tribe Called Quest, on The Tonight Show alongside The Roots, a week shy of Phife's last birthday last Fall. This is an HD mkv file straight from the NBC site.
A Tribe Called Quest
The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon
NBC Studios
New York City, NY
01 Can I Kick It? (with The Roots)

Total time: 5:11

Ali Shaheed Muhammad - beats
Q-Tip - rhymes
Phife Dawg - life
Jarobi White - additional beats + rhymes + life
The Roots:
Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter - vocals
Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson - drums
Kamal Gray - keyboards, vocals
Frank "Knuckles" Walker - percussion, vocals
"Captain" Kirk Douglas - guitar, vocals
Damon "Tuba Gooding Jr." Bryson - Sousaphone
James Poyser - keyboards, vocals
Mark Kelley - bass, vocals
Ian Hendrickson-Smith - saxophone
David Guy - saxophone

HD 1080p mkv file, straight from NBC-TV stream
A lot of folks of my age bracket are really bummed out that this has happened, so for them and any others I'd say the thing to do is to pull it down and remember what makes this group one of the best to have ever done it. And, of course, Rest In Peace Malik Taylor, the Phife Dawg. Keep it going, and the creators never die... it is in this way that we play the resurrector, and give the dead some life.--J.
11.20.1970 - 3.22.2016