Phife Dawg Club Red Friday, June 22
If there was one point that was made clear in last year's documentary Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, its that the members of the influential hip-hop group won't be staging a reunion anytime soon.
Although Q-Tip is on (relatively) cordial terms with Phife Dawg these days, despite all the drama depicted in Michael Rapaport's award-winning doc, he's been plenty busy these days acting in movies, performing at festivals alongside Kanye and Busta Rhymes, and prepping his latest solo album The Last Zulu
The upside of this situation, however, is that Tribe fans get to seemingly fill Q-Tip's role during Phife Dawg's performances, much like they did last night at Club Red in Tempe. The downside, however, is that it produced a pretty uneven concert experience
A crowd of hundred's roared when the pride and joy of Linden Avenue in Brooklyn stepped onstage after midnight at the Tempe music with a white towel on his head. For those who've never seen the hip-hop artist live and in person before, the whole "five-foot assassin" isn't just some shtick, as he's a relatively diminutive cat. In fact, while standing on Club Red's stage he was barely taller than the crowd in front of him.
A majority of Phife's 40-minute headlining set consisted of songs from A Tribe Called Quest's discography, with a few of his solo songs scattered in between. So after dissing on the Arizona heat ("Y'all are crazy, its really hot here"), he enlisted the audience's help in filling in for the absent Q-Tip on numerous songs like "Buggin' Out" and "Can I Kick It?"
"Shaheed's not here, Tip's not here, so I need y'all to help with the lyrics," he stated. "'Cause I may not remember 'em all."
And the crowd responded by belting out A Tribe Called Quest's potent call-and-response lyrics as best they could (as did Phife's backing DJ Rasta Roots). While it worked on such songs as "Butter," other times it resulted in a chaotic mess. For instance, during Phife's performance of ATCQ's biggest hit "Check the Rhime," probably the most eagerly-awaited song of the night, the cheeky interplay of Phife and Tip wasn't easy to reproduce when the audience couldn't keep up with the rapping or mumbled through the lyrics.
A better solution might have been to recruit any of the talented local hip-hop cats that provided support for Phife to fill Q-Tip's Role. After all, artists like Mouse Powell and Random had the crowd at Club Red in the palms of their hands during their energetic and intoxicating sets. It would've been really cool to watch Powell rapping with Phife on "Can I Kick It?" or to witness MegaRan spitting verses on "Check the Rhime."
As much as the crowd dug getting to sing Tip's parts, they likely would've lost their shit while watching some hometown heroes share a stage with a living legend like Phife. Especially since their hip-hop careers were probably influenced by the man and A Tribe Called Quest.
If anything, it might've encouraged him to put on a longer performance. By my count, Phife only offered around 10 songs during his set, which seemed to end sort of suddenly when the hip-hop artist had everyone in the audience raise up their hands to give peace signs and then thanked them for coming and "helping to spread the message of hip-hop."
Last Night: Phife Dawg at Club Red
Personal Bias: I first heard "Check the Rhime" in 1997 and have been a fan of A Tribe Called Quest ever since. I also saw Beats Rhymes & Life at least twice.
The Crowd: Caucasian cats outnumbered African-Americans at the show by a ration of three to one.
Random Notebook Dump: "What would the Beastie Boys be like if they performed without MCA?"
Overheard: "Once they hear my mixtape, they're gonna shit themselves.
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Number of A Tribe Called Quest Shirts Spotted in the Audience: Three
One More Thing: An elderly African-American woman didn't let the fact she needs a cane keep her from dancing and pumping her fist in front of the Red Owl stage during Random's set.