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, Posdnuos of De La, Vin Rock of Naughty By Nature, and members of the Jungle Brothers. DJs such as Spinna, Red Alert, Scratch, Sean C and Swizz Beatz also attended. Industry legends like L.A. Reid, Jay Smooth, and even 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 came to the podium to share memories of Phife. Busta Rhymes held back tears as he remembered how he came up with Tribe, and how the money from “Scenario” allowed him to feed his family off hip-hop for the first time. KRS-One dropped a freestyle with Kid Capri and Teddy Tedd. Grandmaster Flash remembered how the beats from the group first captured his attention. Even the godfather of hip-hop, Kool Herc, walked on the stage to give his blessings to one of his fallen hip-hop children. Everyone who spoke had a bond with Phife that lives on.
But leave it to Kanye to go all Kanye. Mr. West was not slated to speak at the event, but ran up 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 form 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,” said Mr. West. 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 music. Things really hit home, though, when Soul Brother No. 1, Pete Rock, spoke on behalf of the New York Knicks and unveiled a jersey from the team with Phife’s name on it.
Of course, there was plenty of music; after all, this is Tribe. Angela Winbush performed “Angel” with the legendary Roots, with Black Thought spitting a touching verse, and Kelly Price and D’Angelo performed “You Got A Friend.”
Probably the biggest bombshell of the night came when Outkast’s own Andre 3000 spoke. He revealed that Tribe and Kast 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. The fact that Tribe was recording a new album makes Phife’s loss even harder to swallow. But the possibility of a Tribe/Kast album? There are no words to describe how incredible that may have been.
But the loss of Phife was truly felt when 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 just a group. The intimate memories the remaining members of Tribe shared about Phife’s family—which included his mother, brother, cousin, son and other music kin in attendance—was the most reflective and vulnerable moment of the night. They were truly the masters of the ceremony, offering lessons that anyone in life could learn from while resisting tears. In some ways, it was unreal to see only three of Tribe members standing together, with a clear void in Phife’s place.
Tribe said that everyone in the room was now part of that which started 27 years ago. Several hundred fans came from the park gathering 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 nature of the memorial was just for the day.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty | VIDEO SOURCE: Twitter