RIP Phife Dawg – Favorite Verses: #2 – “Scenario”

phife_curl“Scenario”, the closing track from The Low End Theory, is one of the greatest posse cuts of all time1. Featuring Leaders of The New School, Scenario is probably most well know for Busta Rhymes’ catchy, quotable, energetic final verse.

In order for a track like this to work, your lead off hitter has to set the tone early and often. Phife more than accomplishes this, balancing playfulness, boasting, and “hardness” (not “O.G/thuggish hard”, but “booming”… if that makes sense ). From the call-and-response start, through a string of cliches, to one of Phife’s most memorable lines (“…to show you where I come from”), Phifer KILLS it. It might be the one time where Phife out raps Q-Tip.

A Tribe Called Quest – Scenario

RIP Phife Dawg – Favorite Verses: #3 – “Buggin’ Out”

Phife establishes himself as a peer to Q-Tip, allowing ATCQ to go to new heights.

v0064131_posterframe_putpat_large[1]Phife was a bit of an afterthought on Tribe’s first album; in fact, I think he was only on 4 tracks on People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. Their second release, The Low End Theory, starts out with the Q-Tip featured “Excursions”…. so I thought it would be more of the same (Q-Tip’s rhymes with some dashes of the Phifer).

I knew I was wrong 8 seconds into the second track on the LP. Phife comes out H.A.M. on “Buggin’ Out” 1. Like I mentioned in the #4 post (“Electric Relaxation”), this is easily one on Phife’s most memorable verses.

Yo, microphone check one two what is this
The five foot assassin with the ruffneck business
I float like gravity, never had a cavity
Got more rhymes than the Winans got family

The video takes his verse to the next level. The 5-ft Assassin, in a canary yellow sweatshirt and “bug out” eyes, KILLS it.

And yes, Phife, I agree – riding on the train with no dough does “suck”.

A Tribe Called Quest – Buggin’ Out

RIP Phife Dawg – Favorite Verses: #4 – “Electric Relaxation”

The best (worse?) advertisement ever for a New York based furniture company

I finally got around to watching Michael Rapaport’s excellent Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest a few years ago. I think it made me sad more than anything else; I hated seeing the drama and infighting between my favorite rap group.

I almost turned it off; I’m glad I didn’t, because I would have missed the explanation behind a line in my favorite ATCQ track (“Electric Relaxation”).


First, a little about “Electric Relaxation”; I love this track. It’s my favorite track off my favorite rap album. It might be my favorite hip hop tune of all time. It’s got all the elements:

  • A great hook (Tip’s “Relax Yourself Girl, Please Settle Down”)
  • Killer beat from Billy Brooks by way of Raphael Saadiq
  • A ying and yang flow between two polar opposite MCs

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RIP Phife Dawg – Favorite Verses: #5 – “8 Million Stories”

A day in the life of the Funky Diabetic

phife-dawg_10190399-portrait-article_4col_fix_widthThe Phifer doesn’t get enough shine for his storytelling abilities. He’s not Slick Rick or Nas, but his flow is hyper, funny, original, and usually a fresh alternative to Tip’s more laid-back style.

Phife (as well as Q-Tip) have “solo” tracks on most ATCQ albums1; “8 Million Stories” just edges out “Butter” as my favorite of these “Phife only” cuts.

Phife, in his everyday man role, weaves a tale of robbery, shopping, and sports over a sick sample of Bola Sete’s “Bettina”.

A Tribe Called Quest – 8 Million Stories

RIP Phife Dawg – Favorite Verses: #6 – “The Infamous Date Rape”

A great rapper gone too soon.


He was the Everyman to Q-Tip’s cerebral abstract vibes, bringing in pop culture references and grounding the group for the streets.

-Andre Torres, Executive Editor, Genius

A few years ago, a guest pastor came to my church to give a sermon on Joseph and his 11 brothers. As the story goes, Joseph was despised by his brothers (because their father, Jacob, favored Joseph over the others). One day, in a jealous rage, they brothers toss Joseph into a pit and fake his death1.

The pastors point was as follows: most of us try to relate to Joseph, when in reality, we are more like the 11 brothers.

I thought about that sermon when I heard about the passing of Phife Dawg – one third (or fourth, if you count Jarobi) of A Tribe Called Quest. Q-Tip was the smooth one – with the cocoa-brown skin, tall frame, and perfect words for the ladies. When I recite Tribe verses, I imagine that I’m Q-Tip…. but in reality, I’m more like Phife. Q-Tip was the abstract one. Phife was the realist. Q-Tip took you to the edges of the universe with a smooth flow and sideways thinking. Phife kept you grounded on earth with the realities of life.

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