- for PHIFE
by Chuck Huru with Cheryl Boyce-Taylor
Photo: Malik "Phife Dawg" Taylor and his mother, Cheryl Boyce-Taylor on his birthday in Atlanta, Ga. Photo courtesy of Cheryl Boyce-Taylor
“Put one up for the Phifer, it's time to
decipher/The ills of the world make the
Spring 2017 marks one year since the world lost a hip-hop icon. He made his indelible impact with the pioneering group, A Tribe Called Quest in 1990. Since then, and several classic albums later, including 2016’s We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service, Malik Izaak “Phife Dawg” Taylor’s star continues to ascend to new heights even in the afterlife. A chief architect of the Golden Age of Hip-Hop, Phife Dawg crafted and originated a fresh rap style packed with witty punchlines, clever conversation, and self-deprecating dopeness, inspiring many artists that followed. He definitely understood the makings of a maverick.
A native of Queens, NY, who arguably put the borough’s Linden Boulevard on the map for any neighborhood outsiders, Phife relocated to Atlanta, GA in the mid-90’s and was a resident ATLien for more than a decade. After his passing in April 2016, his presence was still largely felt in Atlanta, even through a creative traffic report of a local news reporter.
I had the incredible honor of speaking with Issue II. contributor and mother of Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor, Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, about his life and artistic contributions.
"I never half step 'cause I'm not a half stepper..."
On Phife’s creativity from an early age…
Cheryl Boyce-Taylor: My son Malik was always a creative person. In fact, at age eleven months he was in a play as baby Jesus. Even when he was in daycare we knew that he was going to be a great artist of some kind one day. At four years old, he told his father and I that he wanted to host his own birthday party. I didn't know what he meant by hosting his own party, but we said yes. He chose the decoration, set the table and gave a little speech. When all the children were seated he stood up and said, "ladies and gentlemen fasten your seatbelts." We never knew where that came from, but the children gathered around the table. And as they were eating, he was walking around the room saying to each child, "so how are you liking the party, are you enjoying yourself, are you having a good time?" This was actually the first time we saw his potential as an artist or entertainer of some sort.
At six years old my mother taught Malik Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s "I Have a Dream” speech. He studied it, memorized it, and then presented it at an awards dinner and banquet church function. Everyone in our family saw the gift in him then.
On her proudest moments of her son…
One of my proudest moments was when at age 21, Malik bought himself a house in Atlanta. I loved the pride he took in his work as an MC. He was totally serious about his music.
My second proudest moment was when he told me that he was going to marry his sweetheart Deisha and asked me to walk him down the aisle, as that is a Trinidadian tradition. I was most proud and happy to walk him down the aisle on his wedding day. It actually still brings a little tear to my eyes.
On Phife’s connection to Atlanta…
Malik did live in Atlanta for about 13 or 14 years. I can't really tell you how it shaped him as an individual. I do know that he grew and matured into a self-sufficient, well rounded black man during his time there. He worked with TLC, Outkast, Dallas Austin, and several other artists there. It was in Atlanta that he met his long time manager and best friend Dion Liverpool, aka DJ Rasta Roots. Several of his childhood friends from Queens moved there and established Households. Most of them still live there. As you know his work was national and international so he did travel a lot and Atlanta was his permanent home base before he moved to California with his
"Yo, microphone check one, two, what is this? The five-foot assassin with the roughneck business..."
On Phife’s skill as an MC…
I always loved Phife's work as an MC. He was raw, wild, fearless and dirty. Oh, he would curse and just be street and crazy. He is in rare form on the new album too. I listened bursting with pride. "Damn he's good" is what I said to myself. He uses sports references, he goes from slang and roughneck boasting to self-depreciation. He's able to laugh at himself and others. He's well versed in sports history and uses it with skill and finesse. Above all, I love when he uses his Trinidadian accent. He's like a skilled boxer, giving punch for punch. Very early in his writing career we both agreed that we would not censor each other's work, and we stuck to that. In terms of his career I was an overindulgent mom, so whatever he did in his work was okay with me. He proved to me from a very early age that he could make great career decisions, and I trusted him.
"I'm a rapper, but I'm a human."
"F*ck who you think I should be, forward movement."
On Phife’s legacy…
In terms of his legacy I think he will always be remembered for his skill on the mic. To me he was pure magic, but then again I'm just mom. He will also be remembered because he was always warm and friendly, no matter where he was, no matter how he was feeling. He was always available and kind to his fans. Most people don't understand the toll that type 1 diabetes takes on the body. Often he didn't always feel his best. But when he hit that stage, it was on and he was ON! I've learned so many things about being an entertainer from him and sometimes even now when I'm feeling a little tired or down, I remember his drive and his ambition. I think about how much he has inspired me and how much he inspired a whole generation.
Click here to view Cheryl Boyce Taylor’s poems dedicated to her son, Malik Izaak “Phife Dawg” Taylor.
Photo: Deisha Head Taylor
Cheryl Boyce-Taylor is a poet and workshop facilitator. A recipient of the 2015 Barnes and Noble Writers For Writers Award, she is the founder and curator of Calypso Muse and the Glitter Pomegranate Performance Series. Cheryl earned her MFA in Poetry from Stonecoast: The University of Southern Maine, and an MSW from Fordham University. She is the author of three collections of poetry: Raw Air, Night When Moon Follows and Convincing The Body. A VONA fellow, her work has been published in: Adrienne, Prairie Schooner, and Pluck. Her new collection Arrival will be out in June 2017, from Northwestern University Press.