Phife is typically ignored during discussions of great emcees, which is a shame because his presence certainly enlivened many of A Tribe Called Quest’s greatest songs. Q-Tip’s distinctive voice and romanticist poetics were certainly a draw for many fans, but Phife’s slightly more aggressive and yet affable delivery added an extra dimension to Tribe’s very laid back approach. Try imagining a Tribe record without Phife’s vocals and you’re left with the rap equivalent of smooth jazz. Let’s take a moment to honor the funkiest diabetic not named Ghostface with some examples of rhyming excellence:
Chi-Ali “Let The Horns Blow” – Dres, Fashion, and Trugoy all come dope, and Phife matches their ferocity. No need to listen to Chi’s lackluster verse.
De La Soul “Sh.Fe.Mcs” – Phife holds his own alongside his Native Tongue brethren.
Diamond D “Painz And Strife”– Diamond is engaging as always but Phife’s kinetic delivery on his brief verse is both technically impressive and enjoyable.