So I woke up this morning (which is a privilege), and I checked my phone (as usual). I went on Facebook (like millions of Americans before brushing their teeth) and saw on my timeline “A Tribe Called Quest’s Phife Dawg Dead at 45“. Not to sound insensitive, but people/celebs die every day. Some deaths hurt more than others, most likely due to the relation of that person. Let me tell you why this hurt more than usual.
My real name is Jason Tyree. I say that because unless you don’t know me personally, I have branded myself as “A Man Called Jason.” What most people may not know is HOW I came up with that name. (If you’re hip hop savy and picked it up, shhhhhh…). My faux name is a derivative of A Tribe Called Quest, but since I’m only one person, it would be silly to go by “A TRIBE Called Jason” (although that sounds and looks dope for some reason). I was born in Philly, in the early 80s, so I was right near the infancy of hip hop. In fact, hip hop and I probably took our first steps together. I grew up in an atmosphere where I saw the crates of vinyl, saw the breakdancers on cardboard, saw the shoes dangling from the phone lines, saw the big boomboxes, etc. It was glorious, BUT…I was too young to fully comprehend what was going on. Yes, I heard Grandmaster Flash, Run DMC, LL, Beastie Boys and others, but I was also learning how to read and write, so all of that was a blur to me (as spoken throughout my 2nd mixtape: The 80s). Regardless, the seed of hip hop was planted and every time my young ears would hear a rap song, I would stop everything and listen.
At age 8, I moved from Philly to Richmond. Life was slower in the south, which had its pros and cons. The pro about that was that I could digest life better (more specifically, hip hop). The con, I would hear the latest hip hop songs later than I usually would had I stayed in Philly. [Remember: There were no internet or streaming services.] About a year into my move to Richmond, 1991 to be exact, I had my “So when did you fall in love with hip hop?” moment. We had just got cable and Yo! MTV Raps was on. Right there, I saw the video “Jazz (We’ve Got) Buggin Out”.
That video changed my life! That video clicked with me and made me understand hip hop. Then I remember my big brother had The Low End Theory album and that was the first hip hop album I heard in its entirety. Then, when I thought it couldn’t get any better than this, I later saw the video for “Scenario“, and the rest was history.
Now, let me finish tying this altogether. Tribe is the reason why I love hip hop, but Phife is the reason I could identify with hip hop.
“I’m just a fly emcee who’s 5 foot 3…” – Phife
I wasn’t a 5 foot 3 kid at age 9, but I was short (and still teether on the short side til this day). Seeing someone that short still rip the mic…ok, I have a confession. I have been known to say in private conversations with my homies that Phife was the wackest rapper of the crew. As agreeable as that may be, without him, Tribe wouldn’t be Tribe. Plus, there were times where he did step up. It was his introverted demeanor and size that resonated with me. I drew that connection with him before I did with Q-Tip. Ironically enough, in the midst of making The Low End Theory album, Phife was diagnosed with diabetes. As of right now, I don’t know if that was the cause of death, but I do know that between the kidney transplant in 2008, and other health issues, it may have played a role in his untimely demise.
Any who, I’ll go ahead and bottom-line this. Phife, thank you for the gift of hip hop. May you rest peacefully.