Tribe opened the door in terms of subject matter. They were just authentically themselves, and they rapped about their friendships and New York stories. It just felt like these were your friends and they got on and they were telling you what life was like on their side of things. And that’s why we responded — because they were real with us every time.
Phife was so unapologetically himself. He rapped about being diabetic, he rapped about being 5 feet tall. He took the things that you think would discount someone from being able to have a career as an MC and made them superpowers. One of my favorite lines: “I get loose off of orange juice” [from “Phony Rappers”]. That’s Phife.
My Twitter feed today has just been Phife quotes. I could spend the day doing that and everyone will know what I’m talking about — it’s just a cornerstone of hip-hop. I mourn the loss of Phife’s voice, I mourn that interplay between him and Q-Tip. But I’m also grateful for it. Phife was 45 years old, and that is too, too young. He struggled with his health his entire life, but the things that he made are going to stay with us forever. You can’t help but be grateful for that.