Upon hearing A Tribe Called Quest’s We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service for the first time, on Wednesday night in New York (Nov. 9), the mother of the late MC Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor called the hip-hop group’s final album “hot.”
“I loved my baby boy’s genius sound on it,” Cheryl Boyce-Taylor told Billboardfollowing the private listening party. “It sounded like the original history-making Tribe sound with a 2016 updated pulse.”
Released on Friday (Nov. 11), We Got It From Here is the first album from the original lineup — Phife, Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White — in more than a quarter century. Its release marks a bittersweet closure for the group, heavier in its poignancy given their scheduled Saturday Night Live set on Nov. 12. It will be Tribe’s first performance without Phife, who died in March from kidney failure and diabetes complications.
“I’m so nervous because he’s not going to be there,” she says of the performance. “In a way, I don’t want to go to Saturday Night Live, but this is part of my journey as his mother. My heart is hurting. These last eight months since he passed away, I’ve been walking with joy and sorrow, side-by-side. I was the kind of mother that went on tour with him sometimes. I was always at his shows so this is going to be so difficult for me.”
The rapper was a Type 1 diabetic, born premature in Jamaica, Queens in 1970, and his twin brother, Mikal, survived only eight hours. Phife’s kidneys were half the size they should have been, and he spent his first three months in the hospital. Diabetes struck during his first tour with Tribe in 1990; self-care dialysis four times a day became part of his routine between shows.
Though Phife was seventh on an eligibility list for a kidney transplant last year, his health had been improving, Boyce-Taylor says, calling his death “a shock.” (His wife, Deisha Taylor, had donated a kidney years before.)
Boyce-Taylor visited her son for the last time on March 3, in Edgewater, New Jersey, while Phife was in town working on the album. It was 19 days before he died at his home in California. “He was completely ecstatic that day,” she recalls. “We just talked rapidly about all that was going on in our lives. I was engaged, and planning a ceremony and reception with my partner of 20 years, Ceni. He was very excited for me.”
Next Saturday in his native Queens, his name will officially mark a section of that iconic piece of Tribe geography: Linden Boulevard. A section of it will be renamed Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor Way, near his longtime home at 192nd Street, a day before what would have been his 46th birthday.
“He was my teacher, so I don’t really know what I’m doing in the world without him. I don’t know how to proceed without him,” Boyce-Taylor says. “He lived the most magical life, and that is what comforts me the most.”