Diabetes took Phife Dawg at the early age of 45. But the legendary A Tribe Called Quest MC made it clear in life, and lyrics, how deep his love for food ran, and we’d like to celebrate that love — with some ham and eggs, of course.
In this party anthem, Phife advised us to “Head for the border, go get a taco” and that he “gots to get the loot so I can bring home the bacon.” Obviously, Phife had excellent taste in food.
And speaking of excellent food, Phife knew bad food too, and he wasn’t going down like some soft serve. “Yeah, I’m tellin’ you G, to back up off me/I’m not a mad cohort, but I’m not Mr. Softee.”
We wouldn’t have pegged Phife for a quiche man, but apparently he’d destroy any MC who messed with him the same way he’d destroy a good slice of quiche at brunch. “Beast of the East, on MCs I have a feast/I’d eat that ass like quiche, crack a smile like Shanice.” ‘Nuff said. Don’t threaten a man who’s said he will devour you like quiche.
Oh, so you didn’t listen? You’re still challenging Phife, the “funky diabetic”? Well, at least he has a consistent diet then, because he’s “steady eating booty MCs like cheese grits” in this Busta Rhymes-punctuated classic perfect for Saturday night cruising.
And speaking of Saturday night, Tribe asks, “What is a liquor if it ain’t 80 proof?” In this rapid-fire, absurdist Buddhist koan, Q-Tip also asks “What is a jam if you don’t spike the punch?/What’s a brewski if you don’t bite brunch?” We agree — there should always be beer food.
Brunch is good, but is dessert even better? In this diss-and-boast, Phife tell us that “Too much candy is no good, so now I’m closing the shop/Crushing competition like Italians on grapes,” in reference to rappers who just shouldn’t be at the top. Q-Tip tells us he’s “the cherry on the top of yo ice cream/I’m the mystic thought inside your dream.” We do dream about ice cream, with cherries on top.
It was 1993, and Q-Tip was just sick already of the Biore pore-cleansing strip, so he offered us a natural alternative. “I open up your pores like a plate full of collards,” he says. New beauty method unlocked.
What’s food without butter? In this pomp-and-circumstance reminiscence on the fly girls of Marcus Garvey High, the boys proclaim themselves players, but just sound confused when they talk about women. Phife declares that he’s “smooth like butter” and Q-Tip tells us that the crew was “Not no Parkay, not no margarine/Strictly butter, strictly butter, baby.” Maybe we can find “Tonya, Tamika, Sharon, Karen, Tina, Stacy, Julie, and Tracy” to interview them on whether Phife, Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed were smooth like butter or more like a brillo pad at age 18.
In this chill-beats-but-serious-topics ditty, the boys are turning into men and they’re defending themselves against those who think they’re “buggin out” and have gotten crazy and too big for their britches.
They’re also concurrently discussing how hard it is to maintain life in New York. They talk about how, sometimes, you just need to zone out and be in your own head, but people think that’s rude. But Phife doesn’t care what you think, though, because he’s hard-working and talented, he’s sporting his New Balances and has got his favorite drink — would you care if you had all those things? “I never half step cause I’m not a half stepper/Drink a lot of soda so they call me Dr. Pepper.”
The crew has grown up, and here they are talking to us about love — not just romantic love, but love for life, love for community, love for music, and of course, love for food. Q-Tip waxes on how he “Love peanut butter and jelly on wheat/Wylin’ out, makin’ hot shit to hot beats.” What else is there in life, but food and music?
This trippy, Latin-influenced cross-country ditty opening with “Funky” by The Chambers Brothers (you’ll know it when you hear it) is perfect for those drives when you’re sailing down a long road, looking for road grub like Tribe was. In it, Q-Tip steals his mom’s car and picks up Ali Shaheed. They cruise cross-country and are on a dusty road when they spy a mystical four-foot-tall dude named Pedro sporting a sombrero. He advises them of a fast-food spot a mile down south, and they cruise off to El Segundo.
Most Angelenos probably wouldn’t think of El Segundo as a magical spot, but at the pub, Q-Tip has a moment. “I ordered enchiladas and I ate ‘em/Ali had the fruit punch/When we finished we thought for ways to get back/I had a hunch/Ali said, ‘Pay for lunch’/So I did it/Pulled out the wallet and I saw this wicked beautiful lady/She was a waitress there/Put the wallet down and stared and stared.” Q-Tip is so entranced by the beautiful waitress that he loses all touch with reality and leaves his wallet on the counter.
But did it all ever happen? These boys are from Queens — how did they make it to LA in two and a half days? Was this an acid trip, not a road trip? Were Phife and Q-Tip fighting at the time, so Phife wasn’t invited on the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Trip? How come Ali only had fruit punch? And most importantly, what’s in those enchiladas, Pedro?
And now we come to the very best Tribe food song, saved for last. The lyrics to this early song are all about being torn between healthy food and what they really want to eat. The boys ditch Mom’s “veggie links and fish that stinks” to head over to Grandma’s house. Grandma’s cooking up some tasty-smelling ham and eggs and hollers for them to come down for a feast, but they declare in unison, “I don’t eat no ham n’ eggs, cuz they’re high in cholesterol/Hey yo Phife, do you eat ‘em?/No, Tip, do you eat ‘em?/Nuh uh, not at all.”
Grandma urges them to eat, but they declare that they’re (almost) vegetarians (Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan would approve), sticking to “Strictly collard greens and an occasional steak/Asparagus tips look yummy yummy yummy/Candied yams inside my tummy.” Phife throws in about his love for “Apple sauce and some nice red beets.”
Later, however, Phife declares, “ Now drop the beat, so I can talk about my favorite tastings/The food that is the everlasting, see I’m not fasting/I’m gobbling, like a dog on turkey/Beef jerky, slim jims, I eat sometimes” and Q-Tip declares his love for gumdrops and gummy bears and tells us, “I know what I like/Chicken for lunch, chicken for my dinner/Chicken, chicken, chicken, I’m a finger-lickin’ winner.”
Phife, whose family is Trinidadian, also declares his love for his ancestral foods in a West Indian accent, and tells us “I get the roti and the soursop/Sit back, relax, listen to some hip hop.” Perhaps all foods should be rhymed with musical styles for our listening pleasure.
Rest in peace, Phife. We hope you’re eating doubles in the sky.
Dakota Kim is a food editor who likes her eggs with ham and soldiers. She used to laugh at her brother when he listened to “that weird hippie rap group with the guy named Q-Tip.” Tweet her @dakotakim1.
Main photos by fuseboxradio and Katherine Lim CC BY