I’ve spent the last two days listening to Midnight Marauders and Low End Theory in the car. I don’t need to get into how great these albums are or how well they stack up against each other (Trav at Wake Your Daughter Up did an outstanding job of that recently). What struck me though after listening to Low End on repeat was how passionately Phife Dawg managed to irk the hell out of me.
The song is called “Check the Rhime.” The hook is “check the rhyme y’all.” Q-Tip had a clear concept in mind when he made this song–“hey man, umm..you should check the rhyme.” Although I’ve never been a big Phife supporter, he works extremely well within a group. However, I cannot for the life of me understand why, dear god WHY, he would end his verse saying:
“Extremity in rhythm, yeah that’s what you heard,
so just clean out your ears and just check the word”
It’s so close to being a wonderfully cohesive nugget of rap perfection but no…Phife awkwardly throws in a monkeywrench. C’mon Phife! You’re my man! For the purpose of symmetry, you could’ve have said:
“Extremity in rhythm, yeah that’s what you find
so just clean out your ears and just check the rhyme”
This way, when Tip comes in with the “Check the rhyme y’all” hook, the transition isn’t so awkward and jarring.
If that wasn’t bad enough, that particular instance of vebral kiboshing recalled an earlier thorn in my side from Tribe’s first album. “Can I Kick It?” is another stone cold classic we all know the words to. Again, I’m not picking on Phife, and this was years before people paid strong attention to an MC’s flow, but I don’t know why he decided to go this route (note how he stresses the ending syllables of each line):
“Can I kick it? To my Tribe that flows in lay-yers
Right now, Phife is a poem say-yer
At times I’m a studio convey-yor
Mr. Dinkins, would you please be my may-yor?
You’ll be doing us a really big fay-vor
When it comes to rhythm, Quest is your savior
Follow us for the funky behav-yor
Make a note on the rhythm we gave ya
Feel free, drop your pants, check your hay-ir
Do you like the garments that we wear?
I instruct you to be the obeyer
A rhythm recipie that you’ll savor
Doesn’t matter if your minor or may-jor
Yes, the Tribe of the game, rhythm play-yer
As you inhale like a breath of fresh air”
The bold type indicate words he said flatly. Some words naturally rhyme with the words he stretched out (“favor, savior”). Others don’t (“hay-ir, wear”). Again, Phife had the chance to make a front to back, damn near flawless verse in terms of flow. If you’re gonna sporadically switch up the flow randomly throughout the verse, at least put the cherry on top with the last line! All he had to say was:
“Yes, the Tribe of the game, rhythm play-yer
As your inhale like a breath of fresh ay-er”
Note how Outkast did this perfectly on the hook for “ATLiens.”
“Now throw your hands in the ay-yer
And wave ’em like you just don’t cay-yer
And if you like fish and grits and all the pimp shit
Somebody like me hear you say ‘oh yay yer!”
They knew when it was time to say “air” and when it was time to say “ay-yer.” They also knew that if they were going to commit to “ay-yer” they should keep it coherent by saying “cay-yer” instead of “care.” They even made up a friggin word, “yay yer,” just to complete the masterpiece of the sound “ay-yer.” That’s why Big Boi can pull off a 70s prom tux and Andre can wear a bucket of movie popcorn on his head with matching gilded wrapping paper for pants–bols’ got flavor.
Comparing Outkast’s style with Phife’s, It reminds me of the scene in Fight Club where Edward Norton beats the brakes off of Jared Leto because he wanted to “destroy something beautiful.” That’s how I feel everytime I listen to “Can I Kick It?” and “Check the Rhime.” Phife was soooo close to making something beautiful. Aye yie yie!