Professor Five Footer – Hip-Hop 101

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*DOWNLOAD* A Tribe Called Quest Mixtape! – ONCE Electric Relaxation Sounds

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The year was 1992. I was a sophomore in high school. The only exposure to hip-hop that I had up until that point in my life was 3rd Bass and Whodini. I was not aware that it could morph. That it could teach a lesson. I had no idea hip-hop wasn’t about a sound but about a movement that incorporated art among others things to tell a story. And I for sure had never heard hip-hop that spun social issues into carefully crafted sonic landscape think pieces.

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But that morning in school my friend showed up with a “dubbed” copy of an album called “The Low End Theory” by a group called A Tribe Called Quest. It was a blank labeled Maxwell cassette tape that contained some of the most serious flows and beats that I had ever heard. It was a jazz infused trip that took me on a trip through Queens, NY. It took a few days but I finally got him to loosen his grip on the tape long enough for me to make my own dub of the dub. I carefully wrote the track listing on both sides of the album. At the time little could have made me part ways with Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’. But this was no contest. Shortly afterwards I caught their performance of “Scenario” on the Arsenio Hall Show.

A Tribe Called Quest – Live on the Arsenio Hall Show

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While the album introduced me to the formidable and unwavering talent of Q-Tip,  the flows I was truly loving was coming from Phife Dawg. The Five Foot Assassin, as he called himself. He might have been height challenged…but his flows….. I waited for them! The highlight of the album was the classic banger “Buggin’ Out”. Track #2 on the album. Made me a believer in everything Quest. And while Q-Tip was awesome, Dawg quickly became my favorite.

A Tribe Called Quest – Buggin’ out

Flash forward 24 years later and I can safely say that both The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders are still my top go-to albums. I count them as immense influences on me musically. They laid the groundwork for artists like Kendrick Lamar who might not have existed had ATCQ not shown the hip-hop world that Jazz was cool.

A Tribe Called Quest – Electric Relaxation

This morning I woke up to find out that at the age of 45, Phife Dawg passed away. Way too soon. Leaving a legacy behind that makes his absence seem surreal. I have spent all day listening to my favorite albums, remembering those days in high school when we met and the way he changed my entire life. He made me a better person who could see the world with a little better vision because I attended Professor Phife Dawg’s hip-hop 101 class. He helped a white kid living in the suburbs understand, even if just slightly, the trials and tribulations of being a black man from Queens. RIP Phife Dawg. Write some new verses so that when we get to Heaven we have some fresh stuff to jam to. Thanks for everything.

Now go download the amazing ONCE mixtape!! Link at the top.