Phife Dawg's 'Forever' Captures the Late Artist's Warm, Wise Spirit

BY Wesley McLeanPublished Mar 30, 2022

​In November 2015, a Tribe Called Quest celebrated the 25th anniversary of their debut album People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm with a performance of "Can I Kick It?" on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, backed by the Roots. The first television performance in over 15 years from the reunited Phife Dawg, Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White marked a turning point in the group's history; not only was it the night they set their differences aside to begin recording again, but also their last live performance together.

​Phife Dawg, born Malik Taylor, tragically passed away in March 2016 due to complications stemming from his battle with diabetes, a disease he'd been fighting for over 25 years. Shortly after his passing, the surviving members of Tribe announced they had been working on new music with Phife in the time since their Tonight Show performance, and that they would be finishing and releasing it in his honour. ​We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service — the group's first project since 1998's The Love Movement — was released in late 2016, defying all odds by living up to almost two decades-worth of hype.

It was a phenomenal offering that comfortably bookended what is arguably the most consistent and complete discography in hip-hop history. It was clear that despite the turmoil and resulting hiatus, the group's chemistry hadn't faltered, and Phife specifically showcased that he was as charismatic and vocally versatile as ever. With Forever, it becomes clear that this time apart was pivotal in Phife's journey to reach that reunion.

Forever's 13 tracks tell an insightful and personal oral history of Tribe's hiatus from Phife's perspective. It's an album that helps fill in the blanks — not through a detailed breakdown of the 20-year hiatus, but through Phife sharing his experiences, and showcasing the growth and maturation that came with them. The album tells Phife's story as a family man, navigating his battle with diabetes and coping with the bitterness and disappointment that he felt in the wake of the dissolution of a Tribe Called Quest, among other things.

​Phife's demeanour on the mic has always been characterized by the lovable warmth that he possesses. Whether it be his lighthearted bars on tracks like "Buggin' Out," or in more solemn moments like his heartfelt verse on "Stressed Out," he has always been incredibly personable in his lyrics and delivery, his verses feeling akin to a close friend cracking jokes and telling stories. On Forever, Phife is dealing with illness, a disdain for the Tribe situation and his relationship with mortality, yet he still maintains that warmth and positivity. Despite how tumultuous things seem, he's only come out wiser and grateful for everything that he does have.

​Throughout the album, Phife raps about taking care of his family, his love for his wife, lamenting the loss of friend and collaborator J. Dilla and, most affectingly, sharing his hope for the future. It's incredibly touching to hear that he was so optimistic about what was to come, whether the prospect of finally getting to live life without dialysis, or celebrating the new lease on life he felt when receiving his kidney replacement. This is a very mature album that does away with genre tropes and opts for authenticity and emotion.

​It's rare for a posthumous release to not only live up up to the artist's previous work, but properly capture their aura and spirit in the way that Forever manages to. Despite being mainly comprised of demos and unfinished tracks, Forever serves as a perfect memorial for Phife. It encapsulates exactly who he was, highlights what fans have always loved about him and gives them new insight into the man that he'd grown to be. Not only is it a beautiful tribute to Phife, but it serves as a loving reminder that his music, his spirit and his impact will truly last forever.
(AWAL/Smokin' Needles)

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