I had just turned seven when Tribe’s first album, People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, dropped. I had no clue how innovative they were being at the time, all I knew was the "Bonita Applebum" video that played constantly on MTV, Video Music Box, BET, and the Box. My uncle and the rest of the block played that record on loop that summer. That was my first taste of the Tribe. My second and most memorable brush with them was the first time I watched the "Scenario" video, the third single off their sophomore LP, The Low End Theory.
My cousin and I drove our parents crazy when that video came on, we learned the the lyrics in a day, and jumped around our grandmother's living room like crack fiends possessed. And our favorite line, of course, was when Phife said, "Bo knows this, Bo knows that, Bo don't know jack, cause Bo can't rap." As youngsters we couldn't believe Phife had the balls to diss the great Bo Jackson. He had the fly snapbacks on too in that video.
Sports references are what drew me more to him than to Q-Tip. Being a sports fanatic myself, it was easy to relate. The early '90s was a magical time for both hip-hop and American sports. We had guys like Bo, Michael Jordan, and Mike Tyson who transcended their respective fields, and on the rap side of things there were crews like Tribe who were taking this relatively young genre to new heights.
'Bo knows this, Bo knows that, Bo don't know jack, cause Bo can't rap.' As youngsters we couldn't believe Phife had the balls to diss the great Bo Jackson.
Phife wore his love of sports on his sleeve. I don't think I've ever seen him do an interview or perform without rocking some sort of sports apparel. Last year when Tribe was reuniting for a performance on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Phife appeared on SportsCenter for an interview with Scott Van Pelt dipped in New York Rangers gear.
They talked his favorite teams and why he fell in love with them. Being from Queens, the Knicks were his team, but his favorite basketball player was Magic Johnson. He was a North Carolina basketball fan because of James Worthy and Sam Perkins, so he followed the Lakers closely. In another interview he did last year with NBA.com's Sekou Smith and Lang Whitaker, they picked his brain on the Knicks drafting Kristaps Porzingis and dealing with rooting for East Coast teams while living on the opposite side of the country. In the interview below from 2012, he talks to Longhorn Hip-Hop about his his many sports analogies and coaching his son's AAU team.
Also, little known fact (because nobody watches baseball), he had a show on MLB.com back in 2006 called Only From the Mind of Phifer where he interviewed some his favorite players like Kenny Lofton and Jimmy Rollins. One of my favorite highlights from the Tribe documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest was when he and Tip got into it about Phife's flip-flopping between the Knicks and the Lakers over the last several years. This was mainly due to Phife living on the West Coast and the Knicks being, well, the Knicks. As a lifelong Knick fan, I couldn't blame him.
In that same doc he talked extensively about his love affair with sports. Phife waxed poetic about his favorite NBA little men, Big East basketball, his favorite NFL running backs, why the Yankees should be the only MLB team to wear pinstripes, and wanting to take his high school basketball recruiting career more seriously. The 5-foot Assassin was all about sports and he was one of the first people to bridge the gap between rap and my favorite athletes. Rest in peace, Phife Dawg, and thanks for everything.