by Dom Jones
Many of us know (and admire) the legendary hip-hop group, A Tribe Called Quest. Their mark on music transcends genre, and their contribution to pop culture is undeniable. Their album, Midnight Marauders, is considered one of the most prolific albums to fuse jazz and hip-hop. I liked Phife as a rapper, but always thought, as many did, of Q-Tip as the front man of the group. Today, we saw the depth of his imprint on music and the love that so many people had for his talent. Several celebrities took to Twitter to express their grief over the loss of such an iconic figure from an iconic group.
It wasn’t until I watched a documentary about the group named after one of their albums: Beats, Rhymes, and Life, that I really began to get to know Phife. What endeared me to him, while watching the documentary, was his health struggle with Diabetes. It made me reflect on how if we, as musicians, do not take care of ourselves, our careers can be drastically affected or even ended. According to a 2014 report from the CDC, 208,000 people younger than 20 years had been diagnosed with diabetes in just that year.
When watching the group’s documentary, we saw Phife and Q-Tip struggle with their relationship, often being at odds and taking long breaks from performing together. Sometimes, the group’s hiatus was due to Phife’s health, where they would either pause on performing or Phife would have to take a break. It was disheartening to watch someone who had such a love for his craft become limited by his condition.
And we all think that we have all the time in the world to get our lives together. We’ll eat right tomorrow, we’ll start exercising next week, we’ll sleep when we’re dead. Well, Phife is gone at just 45 years old, and I can’t help but think that if he had it to do over again, he might make different choices. Let’s be clear: transitioning to a healthier lifestyle isn’t easy. Most food that is available to a lot of us is addictive. Documentaries and reports have come out stating that sugar is as or more addictive than cocaine, and sugar is kryptonite to a diabetic. Additionally, music isn’t the typical 9 to 5 that offers healthcare or a retirement plan. Health is something that we often put on the back burner, not just because of the psychological difficulty that accompanies change, but because of the expense. It seems clichè to say “self care is important,” but it doesn’t take much to go from an unhealthy lifestyle to a chronic illness to an irreversible condition. In addition to his music, Phife Dawg reminded me to take my health seriously, to be diligent about breaking poor habits that may negatively affect my gifts and prematurely dim my light as an artist.
So, thank you, Phife. Even upon your exit from this life, you’re still on point.