A Tribe Called Quest's Phife Dawg Honored with New York City Street Corner
Cheryl Boyce-Taylor’s family has come a long way. Her family members are Trinidadian immigrants who came to the United States, working hard to provide for their loved ones. And now, her son Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor, a rapper from A Tribe Called Quest, has been immortalized with a street co-named in his honor.
“My family came to the U.S. in the '50s and '60s and they worked as housekeepers, maids and babysitters so for this to come about in my lifetime still is very surprising to me,” Boyce-Taylor, a working poet and actor, tells Billboard Saturday morning (Nov. 19). "I feel very honored, but I’m not surprised that it’s Malik. He’s always been incredible. Even when he was a little boy, he was incredible."
Taylor, known as ATCQ's cocky, high-pitched MC, died in March from diabetes complications. The rapper/producer spoke about his condition in his music, famously referring to himself as the “funky diabetic” in the group’s song “Oh My God.”
During the Saturday afternoon ceremony, Linden Boulevard was co-named as Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor Way at the intersection of 192nd Street in the Saint Albans neighborhood of Queens, New York City. Attendees included A Tribe Called Quest co-members Q-Tip and Jarobi White, extended Tribe family Busta Rhymes and Consequence, rapper Cormega, Hot 97 and ESPN radio personality Peter Rosenberg, city government officials and members of Taylor’s family. Hundreds of excited fans crowded the corner, holding signs, wearing merchandise from Tribe’s pop-up shop in New York City from the previous weekend, and rapping along to the group’s lyrics.
The newly revealed street sign is across the corner from a mural that memorializes A Tribe Called Quest on the wall of Nu-Clear dry cleaners; the group shot their video for “Check the Rhime,” the hit from their 1991 album The Low End Theory, on the roof of the building. Longtime fans know the block from Tribe’s raps, too. “Back in the days on the boulevard of Linden, we used to kick routines and presence was fittin,” Q-Tip rhymed on the track. “Linden Boulevard, represent represent,” Phife proclaimed on “Steve Biko (Stir It Up)” from Tribe’s 1993 third album Midnight Marauders.
Desha Head Taylor, Phife Dawg’s widow, said her husband brought her to the block when they first met in 1998, and would continue to do so every time they would visit New York City.
“When we first met, we flew into JFK, and there was always a route we had to take. We had to stop by Saint Albans park, and stop by 192 and Linden. He always brought me by grandma’s house, no matter how many times we came to New York,” she also told Billboard. “He absolutely loved this neighborhood, and this community, and the people he met here growing up.”
Most of Saturday’s playlist from booming speaker came from A Tribe Called Quest's politically charged final album We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, released last Friday, days after Donald Trump was named President-Elect. The street was also unveiled hours before Taylor’s Nov. 20 birthday. He would have turned 46 years old.
Rosenberg said that he grew up idolizing A Tribe Called Quest. The Queens collective were performers at the first concert he ever attended, where he waited outside four hours to get a front row spot. He specifically related to Phife, and said Tribe’s new album shows how important he and his group members were for rap and American culture.
“Someone said recently, as a kid who loved hip-hop, it would be tough to aspire to be Dr. Dre or Eazy E," Roserberg recalled. "But it was easy to relate to a guy who was short, talked a lot of trash, loved sports, loved girls, was funny. I could relate to that. That was Phife Dawg. That was A Tribe Called Quest."
After the street unveiling, Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip spoke to the crowd about Phife Dawg and what the occasion meant to them. Rhymes referred to the block of Linden Boulevard and 192nd as his “home away from home,” and to the members of A Tribe Called Quest as his “big brothers” since he grew up an only child.
“I want to be forever clear to everyone listening: Busta Rhymes’ life would not be the same if they didn’t put me on that "Scenario' record,"" he said. “I don’t know what it’s like to not be appreciative or thankful. But I know what it’s like to never feel, no matter how successful you become in life, as a person who could pay back the love, the blessing and the reward that was constantly bestowed upon me from my big brothers and the opportunity they gave me.”
“I know Phife is throwing down New York Jets memorabilia from heaven,” Tip then joked. His speech then took a more serious tone, as he noted other New York City streets named after people like legends Malcolm X, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Ella Fitzgerald and others.
“Whatever’s going on at your moment in that life, when you look up and see those names, those names are there to cement the purpose in your life. You can aspire, and your names can join them," he added.
Head Taylor said she was contacted by New York City Council member Daneek Miller’s office about the idea of a street renaming shortly after her husband’s death. Fans of A Tribe Called Quest were already circulating a petition to have a street named after the group, and Head Taylor had submitted a request to have it named after the group instead. But Miller said the council wanted to stick with naming it after Taylor, since he grew up on that block. She said the process lasted three or four months.
Saint Albans was also home to other music legends from previous generations like Lena Horne, Count Basie, James Brown and Fitzgerald to more current rap legends like LL Cool J. There are paintings of many of them under the Long Island Railroad, according to Boyce-Taylor, who adds, “This has always been a place that honors their artists."