Phife Dawg, Ventilation: Da LP (2000)
The return of Phife Dawg to the hip-hop scene is one of this year’s biggest surprises. Many thought that Phife had abandoned the art form to build a new life as a sportscaster in Atlanta – or, at least, that’s how Q-Tip often put it in interviews last year. Then again, unlike Q-Tip, Phife’s discography isn’t loaded with guest appearances and production credits for other artists. In between his contributions to A Tribe Called Quest, the group he shared with Q-Tip and current Lucy Pearl Ali Shaheed Muhammed, Phife seemed to disappear. His relative quiet as an artist, however, had nothing to do with his commitment to rap music, which he proves on his solo debut, Ventilation: Da LP. There are more than a few references to the shoddy treatment he received from his former bandmates, but there’s no need to recount them here (especially since Phife is currently retelling those stories to countless hip-hop magazines, both in print and online). It’s safe to say, however, that Phife is the antithesis of Q-Tip’s flossed-out image. As he repeatedly tells us on “Flawless,” “I walk hip-hop, I talk hip-hop, I need hip-hop, I lust hip-hop.” Still, it’s surprising how much the two have in common. While Q-Tip enlisted Jay Dee to keep him on point, Phife Dawg recruits the help of several top producers, most notably DJ Hi-Tek (“Flawless”), Fred Wreck (“Ventilation”), and Pete Rock, who regurgitates the bass line he used on Bumpy Knuckles bloodthirsty “Industry Shakedown” for “Melody Adonis,” flipping it with a scintillating piano line into a lovely track. Both Tip and Phife keep their solo albums short and sweet: like the old Tribe albums, Ventilation runs under 50 minutes. Sadly, without the other as a balance, both tend to indulge themselves. While Q-Tip let the jiggy out on Amplified, for better or worse, Phife attacks his beats with little subtlety. He’s a rhyme spitter who tends to repeat the same themes (“People still takin’ rapping for a joke”) and verses (“fixated with fake chicks/Them hoes have been in porn flicks”) over and over again. Nevertheless, Ventilation has a punchy energy that carries it through nearly an hour of underground dynamics. Groove Attack.