With friends like these, you never need another crew. This was the thought, immediately after leaving the A Tribe Called Quest concert at the second annual Panorama festival on Sunday at Randall’s Island. On the 21st anniversary of their fourth studio album, Beats, Rhymes and Life, the Queens-bred hip-hop group with countless classics took the stage to do a roster of their greatest hits and new songs.
But the ever-present void of member Phife Dawg, who passed away March 2016 of kidney failure from diabetes, was felt— heavily.
Their set —which they announced would be their last show ever in New York City— began with a huge photo of Phife on the LED screens on each end of the stage. With a mic set up as if he were there, Q-Tip, Jarobi White and Consequence led the performance with “The Space Program” off their sixth studio album We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service. They then jumped from their 1991 hit “Check the Rhime” to their 1998 hit “Find A Way”, produced by J-Dilla.
Energized by the fans—many of whom have been listening to their music since the early ’90s— the men, including Ali Shaheed Muhammad on the turn tables, seemed humbled. But within the humility —which is a rare trait from seasoned Grammy award-winning music icons— there were waves of sadness when talking about Phife’s passion for the music. They gave him a solo, by playing one of Phife’s favorite verses and acknowledged his parents in the crowd.
It was no secret that Phife and Q-Tip had quarrels through the years. But their friendship that was more akin to brotherhood, was unshakable.
“One thing Phife and I spoke about at length was the importance of maintaining the essence but not getting trapped in that, trying to like see a beyond to it,” Q-Tip told Okayplayer about the making of their last album and the competition they still had with each other.
“The spirit of… not just competition but one-upping each other… you know, the woodshed, the ‘steel sharpen steel.’ All of a sudden the drapings of age-ism and questions of where we’re at, that sh-t flew out the f–king window. When we fell into science mode, we just locked in and became fucking kids again.”
On this final performance, it wasn’t about wins, losses or competition. A loved one, a dominant personality, a friend, a piece of the puzzle, was gone. While their time as a group may be coming to a close and an era has ended, fans thank God we got to know Phife while it lasted.
Q-Tip at 2017 Panorama Music Festival