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R.I.P Phife Dawg from ATCQ: Memories From a Fan and a Friend

I was a young boy like 9 or 10 and a diehard Giants fan.

I was a young boy like 9 or 10 and a diehard Giants fan. Every time my mom sent me to the corner store to fetch a pair of Virginia Slims, Id have to pass Jarobis house and then your grandmas house. Id often see you walking the opposite way rocking your Jets gear and youd tell me how sorry a QB Phil Simms was, and how Big Blue hasnt been sh*t since LT bounced.

There were several things we were always in agreement with. Despite the differences in favorite teams, we both agreed that the Dallas Cowboys were ass. The fact that we loved our hood and borough unconditionally and would rep it for the rest of our lives was also something we shared. Just being from the South Jamaica Queens side of things, we both shared a natural love for rap music and soul tunes.

I remember the time we were all standing in front of the corner store on Sayres Ave and you told me to spit something because you knew I was a young boy who always spit heat at a very young age. You pounded on the blue mailbox on the corner and I spit some of my afrocentric, young intelligent hoodlum flavor. You seemed to really dig it. Word in the hood was that you and Jarobi were bubbling with this new group called A Tribe Called Quest and were about to make some serious noise in the industry.

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A few months later, yall dropped. I Left My Wallet In El Segundo  and I saw you walking up the street in front of my crib. You told me that you wanted to produce a track for me. I didnt even know what that meant at the time lol, but it was the first opportunity you ever extended to me. Years later, I realize how positive an influence on my life you always were, regardless of how much time we spent around each other.


The last memory of my childhood that really stands out is when I was a freshman in high school. ATCQ had already blown through the roof and almost everybody on Linden Boulevard from the 170’s to the late 220s flooded the roof of Nu Clear Cleaners to be in the Check the Rhime video — be a part of history in the making.

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A friend of mine named Russell Long from Brooklyn never believed me when I told him I grew up with you and you were my boy. One day he and I were in front of my crib tossing the football around and here you come bopping up the block with your signature walk, your effervescent Queens swag and a smile on your face. You stopped and started tossing the rock with us and popping sh*t about the Giants.

After you bounced, my boy Russ was in shock and the situation worked wonders for my street credibility at the time. It was even doper when I would bump into you on Jamaica Ave and youd walk with me and whoever I was with through The Coliseum, talking to me about everything from rap to sports to the fly honey-dips that approached you.


It was always the highlight of our day. If we were going to pound out an adversary or start some trouble, your presence most definitely put us in a different frame of mine. Thanks for never forgetting the hood you grew up with, homies you came up with.

When I was in college at Hampton, you came to the Virginia area to do a show and the campus was buzzing with the fact that Q-Tip, Phife and Ali were on the premises. This was back in 92, before cell phones. For whatever reason, we didnt get to see each other or get in contact. But later that afternoon, a group of girls came running up to me and said, Phife was asking for you. Phife was looking for you.


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                                                                        (Photo Credit: dailynews.com)

I was just happy to know you thought of me homie while you were in VA in the midst of building your colossal legacy and I knew wed cross paths again very soon.

Wed always inquire about each other through mutual friends as the years passed and we carved out our adult paths. As the late ’90s and 2000s ushered in a new musical wave, the authenticity and historical relevance of your music still resonated throughout the world, but the tone of hip-hop music had changed.

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You also developed Type 1 Diabetes which led to liver failure and the collateral damage caused some friction between you and the left chamber of Hip-Hop’s musical heart. That journey was captured in a documentary filmed by Michael Rapaport: Beat Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest.

You allowed me to accompany you on the press tour in DC and I remember I got Kevin Blackistone a seat in the private viewing premiere. You went on the radio and not only promoted the documentary and addressed questions about your relationship with Q-Tip, but you promoted our project. It was only fitting that our last show had Chris Lighty, Busta Rhymes and you together, one last time; laughing, joking and reminiscing. 



During that time, I had done several interviews with you for Slam Magazine, even staying at your house in Atlanta for a few days and then returning with my cousin Thomas for your 40th birthday weekend celebration. I remember, we went bowling and at night we hit up a couple of parties in your honor. Just Blaze was DJ’ing and Rasta Roots and the entire Smokin’ Needles family was there. Of course, your wife Deisha was in the house. 


Inviting me to come to Oakland and stay with you and the fam for a few days while we did some FANalyst drops is a memorable experience as well. The first time I saw your North Carolina Tar Heel-themed room, it was like walking into The Dean Dome and seeing Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Sam Perkins about to get it on with the mighty Georgetown Hoyas.

How conflicted you were, you once told me, when John Thompson and Patrick Ewing faced off against Dean Smiths bunch. You bleed Tar Heel blue but your Trini blood inspires you to consciously be a supporter of your people in all situations. You had your pulse on politics, people and players in the game.

We kicked it and watched the NCAA Tournament. I went with you to the studio, watched you work and even to the medical center to pay a bill.

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Eventually, because the friendship was solid and the chemistry was right, we eventually decided to form The FANalysts. The FANalsyst Sportsrap Radio show with Phife and The Gambler and the written pieces we did together are unforgettable.


These are just some of the memories I have of you. The fact that you are a hip-hop legend, well thats old news where we come from. The way you continued to fight through illness and re-dedicate yourself to making music and reconciling with your ATCQ family and re-releasing classic material on the 25th Anniversary of People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm before going to meet your maker, only strengthens your legacy. 

In a world of fake rappers and celebrity suckers, you were always just genuine Phife. Your lyrics and stage presence and candidness and infectious smile spoke volumes about the person you were. Whether on tour in Japan with my cousin JAX, introducing him to a level of hip-hop he’s always dreamed of, or tearing it down in Denmark for 30,000 screaming Questamaniacs, you kept it a buck.

As far as sports references go, you are the undisputed king of sports rap, which puts you in a different category and officially moves you out of the shadows of Q-Tips enormous, genius musical presence.

I was overjoyed when I saw you on ESPN. We had spoken about it so many times and you always pushed me to speak to Jemele (Hill) about getting you on there. That path you blazed helped you receive the individual recognition as a living legend, for your contributions to the game. It’s a feat most people only accomplish in death.


Enjoy and Rest in Peace & Power my friend. The indelible mark you left on the lives of millions can’t be erased. 


We’ve always enjoyed Phife’s sports takes on The Shadow League. Here are some of the deceased rap legend’s TSL bangers. 

Phife Dawg’s Super Bowl Lips Service

The New Big East Tournament Is Torture For 80s Babies and 90s Crazies

TSL Sports Talk Recap: Phife Dawg 

Phife Dawg Is An Extension of Dean Smith’s Effect On Hip-Hop Culture



NBA Masterclass: Phife Dawg Kicks His Eastern Conference Preview 

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The Deputy Editor and Senior Writer is in his 23rd year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, magazines and national TV.

His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.