Friday, March 25, 2016

Phife's Strongest Solo Joint

A Tribe Called Quest's last album, The Love Moment, dropped in 1998, and Phife Dawg's first solo record was out in 1999.  Nobody reading this blog needs me to tell them about "Check the Rhime" or "Can I Kick It?" And most of you can probably quote "Buggin' Out" better than I can. But I've been reading through all these mainstream articles and retrospectives, and haven't found one yet that even mentions he had a solo career. Maybe because it wasn't covered in the documentary; or maybe nobody wants to touch it because it wasn't nearly so well received, and we all want to remember him at his best right now.

And that's more than fair. Certainly, the dynamic between Phife and Q-Tip was a key factor in Tribe's success, which is why none of their solo endeavors were going to touch the success of Low End Theory or Midnight Marauders. But I've got a Phife solo record here that I've always liked, that's definitely not so well known as the classics that are getting bumped up to front pages of Youtube this week. If anybody actually discovers a new song they feel at this point, that'd be pretty great.

So, this 12" is all about the A-side, but I'm going to talk about the B-side first. It's called "Miscellaneous," and it's third single from his 1999 album, Ventilation, da LP. Supa Dave produced it, and I usually like his work, from his unreleased single with Invincible to some of the best work on Kool G Rap's last album. But this is exactly the kind of early 2000's, generic bloop-bloop beat that I felt ruined Phife's solo album. It's not really his fault, that was the latest thing at the time, and there was something effective in boiling down a hip-hop instrumental to its barest minimum the first time somebody did it. But after that, it was just weak, easy and boring.

But you can't release a two year-old song without putting something new on it. And that turned out to be a brand new Luv Boat Mix by Hi Tek. No, thankfully, it doesn't use the theme song from The Love Boat. This isn't Hi-Tech; this is Hi Tek, the Ohio guy from Reflections Eternal and all that. This has a much more natural, substantive feel, thanks to Tek essentially just looping up a fresh old soul record, original vocals, big hand claps and all. And suddenly, even Phife's rhymes, which are unchanged from the original mix, sound so much better. It's essentially just a series of light-hearted similes and punchlines, which I guess is why the song's called "Miscellaneous." Listening to the hook, "The Joint" would've been a much more natural association. "Rock to the joint, roll to the joint, smoke to the joint, get crunked to the joint. Spike Lee to the joint, get wrecked on the joint," with multiple variations.

But anyway, it doesn't matter, because it sounds great. It's simple, but it's funky. "shorties sayin' my name like Destiny's Child," "love the night life like Sonny loves Cher." It's never particularly clever, but it's got all of Phife's charm. It's like Biz Markie's "I watched Star Wars just to see Yoda" verses; just bringing that care free B-boy freestyle vibe like he did on the Tribe albums, anchoring Tip's jazzy explorations to hip-hop's foundation. And it just sounds enjoyable. They're simple, easy to memorize lines that you want to rap along to the funky beat, couched in a couple silly little stories about meeting different girls at a party. One's from the South and is kind of a playful reference to the rise of Southern hip-hop, and one turns out to be an infamous character from some other records: "wanted to give me a hickey, but something's kinda tricky. Looked at the broad, oh shit, it couldn't be! The J to the A to the N to the E! You don't understand, ask EPMD. Thinkin' to myself, goddammit, why me? Thinkin' to myself, goddammit, why me?"

This record re-captures his essence the way his whole solo career should've. This is what we wanted to find when Tribe broke up. But it came kinda late and so it got overlooked. So this is definitely a 12" worth revisiting now. It's got a picture cover and includes Clean, Dirty and Instrumental versions of both versions of the song: the album version and the hot, exclusive remix.

R.I.P. Phife Dawg.


  1. You can grab it in cdq on the superrappin' b-sides compilation as well. Always was a favorite of mine

  2. Yeah, the 12" is pretty nice. Same goes for the album, with the ill Pete Rock-produced "Melody Adonis". This track is worth mentioning too:

    Peace, Smoov

  3. "I've been reading through all these mainstream articles and retrospectives, and haven't found one yet that even mentions he had a solo career." i mention it right here:


    2. Right on, props to both of those. I was getting frustrated reading all these mainstream write-ups, like in the NY Times or The New Yorker, where you'd think Phife hadn't done anything since 1993.