That’s not how any of this works.
When we began the planning of this June issue—our annual celebration of Black Music Month, and also of Black fathers—we were giddy about the possibilities. For one, summer is coming! For two, Black music is a quintessential force in our lives here at EBONY, both individually and collectively. For three, we take seriously the act of lifting up the dads in our community; we recognize them, we are them, we critique them, and most of all, we love them.
And then Malik “Phife” Boyce-Taylor from the legendary rap group A Tribe Called Quest died and everything changed. Gone was that giddy feeling, replaced with a hole that felt an entire generation wide. The generation I speak of is my own—Generation X, the Hip-Hop Generation—the ones who remember when hip-hop, for better or for worse, was actually the Internet of things, the cultural fabric woven into every corner of our lives. Phife and ATCQ provided the soundtrack for so much Black progress in the early ’90s. Emotional progress, I mean. Their remarkable synthesis of jazz, drum beats and unintended Afrocentric swag represented more than music; for many young people, their unmistakable vibe equated a new way of being. Tribe was a fundamental hybrid of stuff: style, sound and souls (Phife was the group’s Everyman to frontman Q-Tip’s eclectic electric)—and they were intersectional in ways well before we had the language to say so.
“You on point, Tip? All the time, Phife,” wasn’t merely a lyrical line; it was a communal call and response. It was as if the words translated into: “Are you OK, Gen X? Hell yeah, we are and best believe we gon’ be.”
My personal story collides with ATCQ in a deeper way. I went to high school with Q-Tip (heart emoji) and their DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad … little brown girl me sat in the studio with these guys for their first three masterful albums … we’ve all been friends for over 30 years. To say losing Phife cuts like a knife is one hell of an understatement. It seemed the whole hip-hop nation came out to say goodbye to him on April 5 in New York City, and I exaggerate not when I say it was an historic gathering (p. 30).
And so we at EBONY went on about the business of creating this issue, our spirits surely dampened. And then we lost the great radio personality Doug Banks. Come on, Black music lovers, tell me I’m not alone when I say, Make it stop. Banks, like Phife, died from diabetes complications. He leaves such a powerful legacy in the world of urban radio; that signature voice, the cool sense of humor, those classics …
And. Then. Prince. Died.
You may want me to have words, but, dearly beloved, I have none. My peers have spoken for me—and all of us—in this, what you are holding, the Black Music Month Commemorative Issue of EBONY that we cried our way through. It is our final love offering to Prince and to you, the greater Black family from which he came (p. 89). The most I can say is that trapped inside me is a feeling something like D’Angelo’s beautiful beautiful version of Prince’s “Sometimes It Snows in April” (performed in solemn tribute to him on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon last spring). I am lavender. I am stunned into a vast openness. I feel billowy, and yet somehow still solid.
Let the record show that in April 2016 (the actual month we compiled this June issue), it snowed and snowed and snowed.
Rest eternally well, Brothers Phife, Doug and Prince.
Sometimes It Snows in April.
And. Then. Prince. Died.
Read the rest of EBONY’s commemorative Prince coverage in the June 2016 issue. On newsstands now! Click here to subscribe.