"Money on my mind so never mind a trick. New York is the town and the team is the Knicks."
The hip-hop world lost a giant Wednesday morning. Phife Dawg -- a.k.a. Malik Taylor, a.k.a The Five Foot Assassin -- died at the tender age of 45. It's a dark day for fans of A Tribe Called Quest, fans of hip-hop, and anybody who has ever shouted the lines above with an overwhelming sense of pride.
When it comes to hip-hop -- or music in general, really -- I'm definitely one of those obnoxious "get off my lawn" type of middle-aged hipsters who rarely listen to anything made in the past 15 years. I'm a child of the '90s and a fan of the Knicks, so this loss cuts deep. Tribe wasn't just a legendary group, they grew up in the same Tri-State Area cultural bubble that I did, and it reflected in their music. The pop culture references felt directed to me personally.
To be honest, Tribe ranks second on my list off all-time New York rap groups behind the Beastie Boys -- It's been three years and I'm still not over the death of MCA. But Tribe did have some of the best '90s Knicks references in their music:
"While you playin' hokey pokey, there's no time to be dokey / Cause I come out to play every night like Charles Oakley" #RIPPhifeDawg— J.E. Skeets (@jeskeets) March 23, 2016
"With all these trials and tribulations, yo, I've been affected / And to top it off, Starks got ejected" #RIPPhifeDawg— J.E. Skeets (@jeskeets) March 23, 2016
To this day I can't hear someone say "I've been affected," without interjecting, "...and to top it off Starks got ejected." There exists in my subconscious mind a wonderful give-and-take between groups like Tribe and the Beasties and the '90s Knicks. I didn't just get my hair cut; I got my hair cut correct like Anthony Mason.
There has always been and will always be a connection between basketball and hip-hop. In my mind, however, nothing will ever top the magnificent melding of New York rappers and the rough-and-tumble Knicks of the '90s. [Assumes grumpy old man persona] these days rappers are part-owners and team ambassadors and shit like that. I'm sure dudes like Jay Z and Drake are legit fans of the game, but they're sitting courtside and interacting with players in real time. I can't relate to that shit.
Watch this NBA interview from just before the start of the 2015-16. Phife talks about catching the Knicks on League Pass from his home out West. I know the guy has sat courtside, I know he's met players and that players are eager to meet him, but that love of just watching the Knicks shines through. It was the same way with his music: New York is the town and the team is the Knicks.
Rest in Peace, Phife. He'd probably be watching tonight's matchup with the Bulls if he were still with us; hopefully he can check out the game from great beyond. Music and Knicks basketball are two of the great passions of my life, and you managed to touch both in your own way.