Friends of Phife Dawg remember late musician at public memorial

By Madina Toure

St. Albans residents who grew up with the late Phife Dawg, a member of renowned hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, braved the rain to show their respect for him at a public memorial hosted by the group at St. Albans Memorial Park Monday morning.

Despite the rainy weather, nearly 200 fans trekked to St. Albans from all over the borough and the city, with some fans even coming from out of state.

Malik Taylor, known by his stage name Phife Dawg, died March 22 in California at the age of 45 due to complications from diabetes. He was raised in St. Albans.

St. Albans resident Carleene Cannon, 48, had known Phife Dawg since he was around 9 years old. She also knew honorary group member Jarobi White.

She has fond memories of Phife, recalling that he had a big crush on her cousin.

“As we got older and as A Tribe Called Quest became more of an entity, with everybody just grooving to the music, he would come off the road and I would go visit him at his grandmother’s house…He gave me my copy of ‘Low End Theory’ (the group’s second album) and leaked it,” Cannon said. “And my son’s name is Jaden Malik Lake.”

Steve McDaniel, 41, also of St. Albans, said he and Phife spent a lot of time playing basketball and football in St. Albans Park.

“When they (his friends and Phife) were in high school—I was younger than them, I was in junior high school—I would meet them in the colosseum on Jamaica Avenue and we would go down to the food court and sit there and bug out with a lot of the kids we grew up with from back here on Sayres Avenue,” McDaniel said.

Another friend of Phife’s, Norman Bennett, 37, who lives next door to McDaniel, referred to him as his “little big bro” because Bennett was younger but taller. They bonded over their common heritage: Bennett’s father is from Trinidad and so is Phife’s family.

“Everyone would beat on the (picnic) table, kick rhymes, something crazy was going on… we played football, baseball, kickball,” Bennett said.

St. Albans resident Keith Taylor, 42, also a friend of Phife’s, echoed similar sentiments.

“Malik was a good dude,” Taylor said. “We all grew up together so we all seem similar. He loved sports and he got into the music thing and kind of went off on his way.”

The first 200 fans who arrived at the memorial received a Phife Dawg T-shirt as well as a ticket to attend an invite-only tribute concert for the musician at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem Tuesday.

Andres Titus, known by his stage name Dres, is one-half of Black Sheep, a hip-hop duo from Queens that started in the 1990s. He had known Phife Dawg since 1989, describing him as a “dope (cool) person” who “had a moral compass.”

The processional for Phife Dawg’s funeral drove by the park along Sayres Avenue and 172nd Street. Jarobi White waved at fans from a car

There are currently two efforts underway to honor the singer and the group. One calls for Linden Boulevard between 192nd and 193rd streets to be co-named A Tribe Called Quest Boulevard—where the video for the first single from the group’s second album was shot—while the other calls for St. Albans Park to be renamed “Malik ‘Phife Dawg’ Taylor Park.”

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.