Kanye West, D’Angelo, The Roots, Andre 3000 + More Paid Tribute To Phife Dawg At The Apollo
Photo by Shayan Asgharnia
Phife Dawg’s Tribute At The Apollo Was A Wake…But Also A Family Reunion For Hip-Hop.
Hip-hop came out in force to pay respects to Malik Izaak Taylor AKA Phife Dawg at an Apollo tribute organized by his family, management and A Tribe Called Quest bandmates Tuesday night. Busta Rhymes brought the room to the verge of tears with his remembrance of how his “big brothers” in Tribe embraced him when he was unknown and didn’t always have a place to stay, saying “they always let me in.” One of the first of many jaw-drop moments came when former NYC Mayor David Dinkins stepped onstage to the strains of “Can I Kick It”; which immortalized him in rap history with the couplet “At times I’m a studio conveyor / Mr. Dinkins would you please be my mayor?”
Musical high points of the evening included a surprise appearance from D’Angelo who flew in from tour stops on the far side of the world to sing “You’ve Got A Friend” with a little help from The Roots. The Roots also backed Angela Winbush, who had the whole house singing along with “Angel” before Black Thought paid a fitting lyrical tribute to the 5 Foot Assassin. KRS-One, who Phife often named as his favorite MC, dedicated a roof-shaking rendition of the BDP classic “Still #1,” with back-up from a rotating cast of hip-hop godfathers that included Grandmaster Flash and Kid Capri (Capri even took a seat at the unmanned drum kit to tap out a boom bap for KRS to freestyle to). Beats, Rhymes & Life filmmaker Michael Rapaport shared a montage of Phife cameos and candid moments, as well as sharing his own stories from the interviews with Phife that were that heart of that movie. Figures from the world of sports showed love in the form of pre-taped messages as well, including Chris Webber and Scott Van Pelt, who invited the Trini Gladiator to ESPN SportsCenter not long before he passed, the fulfillment of a life-long dream for the diehard sports fanatic in Phife. The tribute was presented by ESPN’s resident hip-hop ambassador Peter Rosenberg (also of Hot97) who said Midnight Marauders was his all-time #1 album and compared Tribe to Bob Marley and Led Zepellin, in the sense that “it’s the music you give your kids…to show them what good music is.”
The most striking thing about the night, perhaps, was the extent into which the entire event turned into a town hall, revival meeting and family reunion for hip-hop. Throughout the evening, Malik the person was clearly present in the room through the stories of family and friends, his defining characteristics; a fighter’s spirit, a fierce joy for life and fierce loyalty we writ large for all to see, even to those who only knew him as fans or industry colleagues. But there was clearly something large going on. In many people’s lives the loss of one you depended on, even took for granted becomes a wake up call, a life-changing reflection point. Based on the love and respect he inspired Tuesday night, it is not an exaggeration to say Phife’s loss seems to have prompted such an epiphany for all of hip-hop. Kanye West –not scheduled to speak, and maybe not with the family’s blessing–felt moved to share how much Tribe had meant to him, saying in an emotionally pitched, spontaneous speech (read the full thing here) “anything I ever did wrong, blame Tip and Phife ’cause Tribe raised me.” He also contrasted the influence and inspiration the assembled innovators in the house had brought to the world (taking objection to the idea that Led Zeppelin should be mentioned in the same breath) with the wealth of the Hollywood and music industry elite who have often profited from it, saying “I see so much power in this room.”
He wasn’t wrong…