Earlier this year, A Tribe Called Quest lost a beloved member of their group: Malik Izaak Taylor, also known as Phife Dawg, to a long time battle against diabetes.
Phife left his mark on New York City’s Hip Hop landscape and more importantly, on his home borough of Queens. The community immediately held a vigil to honor his legacy and began thinking up ways to memorialize the loss.
Four men have taken it upon themselves to not only dedicate a mural in his honor, but to dedicate a street for him as well.
Leroy McCarthy, part of a group called Honoring Hip Hop in NYC, started this venture, bringing the other three men—Theron Smith, Founder of Visual Arts Conservatory, Vince Balentine, who painted the mural, and Ed Stevens—on board to help make this project happen.
“Contributors came from the Hip Hop discussion group towards the materials for having this mural painted. I initiated the street naming and the mural, but I brought in Ed Stevens and also T. Smith to help out. Ed’s cousin owns a construction company and they lent us some materials—the ladders and the scaffolding—and T. organized for the money to be raised and I pretty much got the wall permission and coordinated with city Councilman [I. Daneek Miller] and also the police department to make sure they’re not going to run up on us for painting the wall, so everything was covered,” said McCarthy. “A Tribe Called Quest Boulevard is something I reached out to Councilman Miller and also to Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito about and they turned it around because it got a lot of momentum and press exposure. With that they submitted it into the City Council for a vote, an upcoming vote in their session and this is successfully moving forward.”
The proposal is that Linden Boulevard would be co-named A Tribe Called Quest Boulevard between 192nd and 193rd Street. The city council vote for the dedication is expected to take place this month.
The mural is located on 192nd street and Linden Boulevard on the side of the Nu-Clear Dry Cleaners, which also happens to the be the same location A Tribe Called Quest shot their video for “Check the Rhime.”
“[Tribe] was actually up on the roof doing their thing and I didn’t remember how many people were actually on that roof with them and as I talk to people around the neighborhood, who knew them from back in the day, they were like ‘yeah, I was up there too,’ so they did a concert on top of a dry cleaners on Linden Boulevard. What better place to put [the mural],” said Balentine.
Balentine spoke about where the inspiration for the art work came from, explaining the mural is actually a mash-up of two of their album covers.
“It’s an actual mash-up of two album covers—Midnight Marauders and The Low End Theory—so you’ve got the same person in both and then I took those concepts and I put those side by side and the actual lettering on top of it was by [Zombart JK], so he transcribed it out for me and then he e-mailed it to us and so I put that in too, so that’s like the original type from the original record using the original images, it’s all paying homage to the whole process from the artists to the development to how things turned into what they turned into, that’s all in the painting too,” said Balentine. “We’re going to install heads in the middle, so the actual faces of the dudes are going to be wood joints and they’re going to fit in between the windows.”
McCarthy said the wood pieces were dedicated by streetwear brand Good Wood and they wanted the mural to end off that way because Phife Dawg’s widow will be in town for this holiday weekend.
“We’re hoping she can attend a formal dedication along with people who contributed to the payment for materials and help put this together,” he said.
Smith explained this mural and street naming was a collaborative effort and it’s much more than simply a mural.
“Ed is from Queens, so he did the ground work, Leroy did the city organizing, I did the petition and also I raised the funds for the mural through a group called Hip Hop Discussion Group and they raised all of the money for this whole thing,” he said. “So this was a collaborative effort between a bunch of people who are all doing this for the culture, because for me to sit here and look at this, it’s not just a mural.”
“A Tribe Called Quest is a very significant group in terms of their innovation and their music and their craftsmanship and their word-play is very pivotal during the early 90s moving forward and even having, when they came out, the different style of Hip Hop, different style of dress, very individualistic and along that line they contributed greatly to people actually being themselves rather than put on a persona when they’re performing,” said McCarthy. “They are Hip Hop royalty.”