In the history of rap, A Tribe Called Quest has always had a lane of its own. Innovative and original song concepts bathed in warm, minimalist jazz breaks made them stand out and have influenced generations. The rhyme synergy between Q-Tip and Phife Dawg remains the stuff of legend. Today, you can still hear the impact of A Tribe Called Quest albums like Midnight Marauders across rap, and more explicit homages on tracks like Logic’s “Midnight Marauder.”
On March 22, 2016, Phife Dawg passed away after a long battle with diabetes. In the newest episode of The People’s Party with Talib Kweli, legendary producer of Tribe, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, shares his reflections on Phife’s battle with diabetes and their collective attempts to help him win that battle. Talib Kweli just mentioning the name of Ali’s dear friend made him pause.
“You see I’m still affected by the loss of my brother,” said Muhammad. “I still miss him.”
From there, Ali Shaheed Muhammad shares how during Phife’s battle with the disease he and Q-Tip tried to help their friend to the best of their ability.
“He ultimately transitioned because of the diabetes,” Muhammad says. “The impact was felt from its inception to him no longer being here…Phife has a comedic persona. So it was his way of boxing diabetes. Like ‘You got me, I’m not sure how to overcome you. But I’m gonna make you a part of my life in a different way.’ And he did it in a way where other diabetics would not feel alone. Tip loved him so hard and wanted him to stop doing certain things. I think he said it in a way that felt a little more harder. My persona is a little more delicate — Tip and I were saying the same things to him.”
Later, Muhammad — who has continued to thrive in music over the decades, with a wide range of projects — recalls how even on tour they worked to let Phife know they were on his team to the end.
“’You understand what sugar does to you? So how about we combat it by doing some push-ups on the tour bus in the middle of the road?'” he recalls. “And Phife would be like ‘Man, leave me alone.’ That was how we tried to help as best we could.”