Yes, you read that title correctly. That is exactly what took place last night.
Andre 3000, Lauryn Hill, Kanye West and LL Cool J all came to Harlem’s Apollo Theater to celebrate the life of Phife Dawg, along with a ton of other hip-hop legends. And believe us, it was a powerful evening.
The private event was a combination of things, at times a gathering of hip-hop’s greatest acts, other times a history lesson of New York City, all wrapped in a memorial. The list of hip-hop icons in the building was endless: Queen Latifah, Scarface, Grand Puba, RZA, Dres of Black Sheep, Redman, Black Rob, and members of Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, Leaders of the New School and Naughty By Nature. DJs such as Spinna, Red Alert, Scratch, Sean C and Swizz Beatz also attended. Industry legends like L.A. Reid, Jay Smooth, Datwon Thomas and even the comedian Dave Chappelle were present. But more than having an extraordinary who’s who guest list, the night was about the lasting power of A Tribe Called Quest’s music and Phife’s impact.
At different points in the evening, architects of the music shared their thoughts on Phife. A tearful Busta Rhymes remembered how he always hung around Tribe, and how “Scenario” allowed him to feed his family as a rapper for the first time. Chuck D said he would have not missed being at the tribute for anything. Pioneer Grandmaster Flash recalled how the beats from the group blew his mind. Even Blastmaster KRS-One dropped a freestyle with Kid Capri and Teddy Tedd. The event was official, but it did not hurt that the godfather of hip-hop, Kool Herc, was also present.
But leave it to Kanye to go all Kanye. Mr. West was not slated to speak at the event, but came on stage and launched into a classic moment about how much Tribe meant to him. Holding back nothing, he said that Hollywood and the music industry should honor the artists in the building who have built the soundtrack to their lives. In fact, he pinned his existence on the group. “Whatever I do wrong, blame Tip and Phife ’cause Tribe raised me.” What will be seen as a mere rant to many was something a bit more pointed.
Phife’s love for basketball was no secret, and NBA legends paid respect to the five footer. A video was shown with Damian Lillard, Chris Webber, Draymond Green and Jamal Crawford sharing memories of listening to Tribe’s music. Immediately after that, Soul Brother No. 1, Pete Rock, spoke on behalf of the New York Knicks and unveiled a team jersey with Phife’s name on it.
There was plenty of music throughout the night; after all, this is Tribe. Angela Winbush performed “Angel” with The Roots, lead man Black Thought weaved some of Phife’s most memorable lines into a verse, and Kelly Price did the Black funeral tradition song “He Lives Through.” The recently resurgent D’Angelo also made an appearance, singing “You Got A Friend” with Questlove and crew.
Probably the biggest bombshell of the night came when Andre 3000 spoke. He revealed that Tribe and OutKast were talking about doing an album together. At first he thought about keeping that to himself, but overwhelmed by the moment and the presence of everyone in the house, he spilled the beans. It has been reported that Tribe was working on a new album, which makes Phife’s death even harder to swallow. But the possibility of a Tribe/Kast collabo? There are no words to describe how incredible that may have been.
But the loss of Phife was truly felt when Q-Tip, Jarobi and Ali Shaheed Muhammad came to the stage. It has been clear from watching the group over the years, and in the documentary, that they are more than one of rap’s greatest . The intimate memories they were sharing about Phife and his family—which included his mother, brother, cousin, son and other kin in attendance—made for the most reflective and vulnerable moment of the night. They were truly the masters of the ceremony, offering lessons for anyone in life to learn from while resisting tears. It was unreal to see only three members of Tribe standing together, with a clear void in Phife’s place.
Tribe said that everyone there was now part of that which had began 27 years ago. Several hundred fans were also in attendance, receiving special invites from a park celebration the day before. REVOLT hosted a livestream for people lucky enough to catch it. But it felt like the magic of the evening, be it under supremely tragic conditions, was something perfect.
Phife lives on, but the historic celebration of his life was just for that day.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty | VIDEO SOURCE: Twitter