Lessons From Phife Dawg

  • March 27, 2016


“Hey yo, my man Phife Diggy, he got something to say.”

When Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest passed away, it immediately sent me into an hours-long binge of listening to Tribe tracks. I spent hour after hour listening to ‘Mailk, the five-foot freak’ bless my eardrums with classic lyric after classic lyric.

As I kept listening, I saw the hours of the day slipping away, and with it, any notion of my workday being considered a “productive” one.

So, as a way to turn my Tribe-listening binge into billable hours, I started to think about how some of Phife Dawg’s lyrics could apply to me- both as a voice actor & a business owner.

What follows are just a few of Phife’s memorable lyrics, and how they apply to my own career.

I like ‘em brown, yellow, Puerto Rican, or Haitian/Name is Phife Dawg from the Zulu Nation

– Electric Relaxation

It doesn’t matter if you’re a voice actor, a fortune 500 CEO, or a sandwich artist, you better be ready to deal with all kinds of different people. Different people need to be told your message in different ways- it’s on you to figure out which way works for who. What Phife’s telling me here is that each time I get lazy with how I deliver my message, I’m just costing myself another potential client or potential business deal. I need to stay on point with my message at all times, as that’s how I’ll have the widest reach.

When was the last time you heard the Phifer sloppy/Lyrics Anonymous, you’ll never hear me copy

– Award Tour

I don’t know about you, but when it comes to my journey (specifically in voiceover), I’m still out there trying to nail down exactly who I am- my “signature sound.” With everything that’s airing on TV and the radio all the time, it can be hard not to try to be a carbon copy- after all, their sound is where the money is, right? So what Phife’s saying to me here is that if I want to one day get to the level of some of my idols & mentors, instead of trying to be like them, the best way to get there is to be like myself. Innovation goes much farther than imitation.

MC short and black, there ain’t no other/Trini-born black like Nia Long’s grandmother

– Steve Biko (Stir It Up)

One thing that was great about Phife was that he was comfortable in his own skin. He was proud of his dark complexion, and he was proud of his short height. Now with me being someone who still struggles to have 100% confidence at the way my voice sounds, these lyrics don’t really need explaining on why they speak to me. The way I see it, if a ‘five-foot freak’ can be comfortable with who he is, why can’t I?

I never walk the street thinking it’s all about me/even though deep in my heart, it really could be

– Buggin’ Out

I love this line, so so so SO much. I read it as, don’t believe your own hype, don’t be a diva, and never forget that you aren’t the center of the universe. BUT at the same time, always keep a little of that “You know what, I am the best at this” inside, because it’s that bit of confidence (not cockiness) that will keep you going, especially on the bad days.

It’s not like honey dip would wanna get with me/but just in case I own more condoms than TLC

– Oh My God

To many, this lyric is just a clever line about wanting to get with a woman, but I see it differently. What this lyric says to me is that you never know when you’ll have the chance at that big opportunity, so ALWAYS. BE. READY.. Stay up on your training. Run your business like a business, even if the cash flow isn’t there. In the words of one of my old improv teachers, practice like you play.

I don’t half-step ‘cause I’m not a half-stepper/drink a lot of soda so they call me Dr. Pepper

– Buggin’ Out

As for this line…I just wanted to include it because it’s so ridiculously great. Just like Tribe, and just like Phife.

Thanks for the lessons, Phife Diggy. Rest peacefully.

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