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Phife Dawg - Forever Music Album Reviews

Phife Dawg - Forever Music Album Reviews
The posthumous Phife Dawg album, a showcase for his dexterous vocal style, reveals what had become most important to the rapper’s life in his post-Tribe years.

Four days after the 2016 presidential election, the surviving members of A Tribe Called Quest appeared on Saturday Night Live to perform songs from their just-released reunion album, the improbably great We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service. The group recorded the album before Donald Trump’s victory—as Dave Chappelle, who hosted SNL that night, repeatedly argued, Trump was merely sticking his finger in existing fault lines—but the results gave it new gravity. It was a moment of philosophical as well as aesthetic triumph for Tribe, their prescience made obvious.

Not all its members made it there to gloat. During the second verse of the galvanizing “We the People…,” when Phife Dawg’s vocals kicked in, Q-Tip and Jarobi shuffled to the stage wings, making room for a giant banner with Phife’s face to be unfurled. NBC’s cameras zoomed in on the late rapper’s picture until the living ones reappeared in the frame to play hypeman for their friend, their backs turned to the studio audience, egging on a static image.

The performance was less than eight months after Phife, born Malik Taylor, had died from diabetes-related complications at the age of 45. In the nearly 20 years between The Love Movement and We got it from Here, Phife, dogged by ill health and still frustrated over the dynamics that led to Tribe’s breakup, released little music. Forever, his first posthumous album—assembled by his longtime DJ, Dion Liverpool, from largely unfinished demos—reveals what had become most important to Phife in his post-Tribe years: family and a particular kind of integrity, where teaching a child to read and not fucking up a cypher are interconnected parts of one worldview. It also shows a dexterous vocal style that is more easily transposed across eras than longtime listeners might have imagined.

Phife and Q-Tip met when they were children attending the same Seventh Day Adventist church in Queens. But where Q-Tip was free to pursue his secular interests—his father was a jazz collector, and the opening verse to The Low End Theory recounts an informed back-and-forth about musical styles between father and son—Phife’s family adhered more strictly to the faith. He wasn’t permitted to hear hip-hop, much less participate in it, except in surreptitious doses outside the home. This is perhaps why, if Q-Tip could turn moodily inward or grapple with abstract social issues, Phife’s raps always felt more purely social. He was trying to intimidate or entertain, always playing to the block parties in his memory.

Though much of the derision he faced was unfair—Phife’s sly irreverence was a valuable counterweight—there are certainly points on Low End and Midnight Marauders when he sounds quaint next to Q-Tip, as if he were shadowboxing Run while his contemporaries built a spaceship. Forever unlocks in Phife’s vocals a keen adaptability. See the alternatingly rambling and staccato flows on “Dear Dilla,” or the way he moves, on the title track, from Fred Astaire tap dances over the top of the beat to grooves deep in its pocket. Despite song structures that inevitably recall rap from the early and mid-’90s (the trio of cautionary moral tales on “Only a Coward,” the voicemail-dotted “Sorry”), Phife’s voice is allowed here to feel muscular and modern.

Forever’s production descends from Tribe’s work with the late J Dilla, especially on The Love Movement. (It includes the aforementioned Dilla tribute and another song that features his younger brother, Illa J.) The beats skew warm and attempt at points to replicate the signature Ummah swing. This is a familiar musical mode for Phife, but not the only one he works well in. The lone solo album he released during his life, 2000’s Ventilation: Da LP, is a minor but deeply enjoyable take on the more caustic, post-Premier New York rap from the turn of the century, the kind of record for which “dated” is not pejorative. Forever misses some of Ventilation’s bite, even if the gentler tones are fitting given the new album’s themes.

Throughout Forever, Phife raps proudly about taking care of his family members; the album’s first verse, one of the parables from “Only a Coward,” is about a rich rapper who won’t do the same. The peace Phife seems to find in domestic life is especially moving when complicated by stories about his decaying body, delivered optimistically: On “Fallback,” he dreamily imagines a life with “no more dialysis,” and on “God Send,” the answered prayer of a kidney donation is presented as a blessing, with no apparent bitterness about Phife’s own organs failing. But even a listener who stumbled onto this album with no knowledge of real-life events would feel that buoyancy punctured by some of the guests, who address Phife as a deceased person. These eulogies were surely heartfelt on the parts of those rappers and singers, but they make that listener long for cameos like Busta Rhymes and Redman, who meet Phife on his playful level.

The most moving moment on Forever is when Phife laments playing phone tag over the final two years of Dilla’s life. Here and elsewhere on the album, Phife’s penchant for peppering his raps with specific details (often proper nouns—fashion labels, street names) merges with his increased willingness to talk about periods in his career when he felt slighted, disrespected, or simply sad about the way things broke with his lifelong friends. It remains heartbreaking that he lost his life so soon. But in the same way that facts from outside the text color Forever’s relative optimism about Phife’s health, the existence of that final Tribe album resolves some of the lingering anxiety about the group’s dissolution that seemed to haunt him for so long.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Phife Dawg - Forever Music Album Reviews Phife Dawg - Forever Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Wednesday, March 30, 2022 Rating: 5

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