“Okay, if knowledge is the key then just show me the lock /
Got the scrawny legs but I move just like Lou Brock /
With speed I’m agile, plus I’m worth your while /
One hundred percent intelligent black child /
My optic presentation sizzles the retina /
How far must I go to gain respect? Um” –

Check the Rhime – A Tribe Called Quest – 1991

Lou Brock’s Cleats – on display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame – Cooperstown, NY

Today, a new Tribe album dropped, a bitter-sweet gift from a quartet that had left us wanting more over a decade ago.  Sweet, because Hip-Hop needs this. Voices from the past, reminding us of what Hip-Hop could be; what it should be.  Bitter, because back in March, our man Phife Dawg left us with a finite catalog of music.  We miss him terribly, and yet somewhat miraculously, we get a taste of new music from this troop of Hip-Hop icons.

We Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service – A Tribe Called Quest

A year ago, November 14th 2015 to be exact, A Tribe Called Quest reunited to perform on the Jimmy Fallon Show.  Their sudden reemergence evoked a wave of nostalgia and more than a spark of hope for some new music.   A few of us caught wind of the possibility of a public performance a few days earlier, and quickly scooped up tickets to an event at Santos’ Party House in Lower Manhattan, scheduled for the day after the Fallon appearance.

While we were unsure whether or not there would be a performance, we were surprised to find out that all four members of ‘Tribe’ would be in attendance.  Feeling fortunate to get tickets for such a coveted event, we prepared for our journey up to New York City.

The plan was to drive up early. My buddy Malcolm would come to my house, and we’d meet our friend ‘Mike from Philly’ in New York.  The three hour drive into Manhattan seemed to take no time at all as we reached Soho by 7:00pm. Doors were scheduled to open at 11:00pm, so we had time to walk the streets and explore a bit.  We made a point to stop by Square Diner, where Tribe filmed their video for Electric Relaxation, and double-backed to find the famous Katz’s Delicatessen on Houston Street.

As we moved closer to the venue, we found ourselves walking through Little Italy.  We settled on a spot for dinner, and reminisced about Hip-Hop and movies that were filmed in the vicinity.

Rivington and Ludlow – NYC – It was here that Jeremy Shatan shot the cover photo for the Beastie Boys Paul’s Boutique album cover

We made our way over to the Santos Party House, and hooked up with Mike. The wait was longer than anticipated, but they let us in with my artwork and big folder. It was a packed scene, and we staked our claim next to a velvet rope off to the left side. We could see the raised stage area, and we would have a good view of any performances.

Much to our surprise, Malcolm spotted Phife Dawg up on a platform. It was a little balcony that was bathed in blue light. He was sitting quietly, as person after person went up to pay tribute.  Unfortunately for us, there was limit to how many people were considered VIP and allowed to enter the stage areas.  We’d be watching from the floor.

Malcolm was spotted by photographer Zoi Ellis. Here, he’s holding up my J Dilla painting during the show.

Just then, from behind us, the crowd seemed to swell a bit.  Bodies were pushing through, and a small entourage emerged from the thick crowd.  In the middle, greeting people politely, was none other than Q-Tip – Jonathan Davis – The Abstract Poet Incognito. He shuffled by, hugging those he recognized, and made his way to the safety of the lower stage.

A few moments later, Ali Shaheed Muhammad politely made his way to the front of the room.  This time around, we were ready to say our ‘hellos’ and shake the man’s hand.

While I don’t remember Jarobi White arriving to much fanfare, he appeared, as if by magic, on stage with the others.

Q-Tip was behind the turntables into the wee hours of the morning – Photo by Zoi Ellis

Although they never did perform any Tribe songs, the group seemed to be in their glory, surrounded by their friends and fans.  There were many hugs and huge, authentic smiles. It was a party. It was a celebration.

As a special surprise, Redman also showed up.  He electrified the crowd with an amazing, energized freestyle. It came out of nowhere, and when he stopped, he walked through the crowd out into the street.  We scurried after him, and got a few pictures before he went off into the night.

Redman and Ali Shaheed Muhammad – photo by Zoi Ellis
Redman – signing the Madina Design ‘Golden Era’ poster – ‘DOPE’
‘Mike from Philly’ and Redman

When the show began to wind down, it was close to 3:00 am.  Everyone spilled out into the street, and began going their separate ways.  Among the crowd we noticed a few Hip-Hop dignitaries: Dinco D (LONS), Busta Rhymes (LONS), and Sadat X (Brand Nubian).  They had each come through to pay tribute their friends.

In a flurry of activity, Q-Tip, Ali, Jarobi, and Phife all made their exit. It was difficult to know which way to go, as there were so many people.  Q-Tip went over to a taco truck and found a few friends. When he turned around, I was there with the portrait I had painted. He threw it up on the stainless steel counter, and quickly signed it.  Zulu Nation security was in force, and they ushered him over to his car.  It seemed that he would be driving tonight.

Q-Tip – watercolor on paper – signed by Q-Tip

I also brought my J Dilla watercolor.  I’ve been adding signatures to it, ever since Phife signed it at the Howard Theatre at the 9th Annual DC Loves Dilla show. He was the first, and I hoped that the others would continue the tradition.  I was not disappointed.  Once Q-Tip got into his car, he was just sitting there.  Malcolm and Mike encouraged me to go over to the driver’s-side door, and ask him to tag the painting. Reluctantly, I stepped into the street.  Almost immediately, a Zulu Nation security guard put his hand up, indicating I shouldn’t approach.  I decided it would be best to return to the curb, and back off. Q-Tip, witnessing my being turned away, motioned to the security guard.  He then turned to me, and waved me over.  He quickly added his name to the Dilla painting.

Andy Katz and Phife – Howard Theatre – Washington, D.C. 2014 – DC Loves Dilla Concert

Before we left, we also managed to catch up with Ali.  While the meetings were brief, Ali and Tip were both friendly and accommodating.  With all that was going on, I really appreciated them taking time out.  We went back to the car, tiredly walking on air. It was to be a long drive home.

The ‘Ever-Evolving’ J Dilla Watercolor – signed by Mah Dukes, Questlove, Q-Tip, Pharoahe Monch, Black Thought, Maseo, Trugoy, Posdnous, Common, Phife, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Pete Rock, DJ Scratch, Grap Luva

As I crossed into Maryland, the sun came up.  Malcolm was sleeping in the passenger seat. I was extremely tired, and I would be for over a week afterwards.  I kept driving, feeling secure in the decision we made to make the trip. It was worth it.  I think about it often, and I use the memory to remind myself to enjoy each day. Life is short. Listen to good music. Travel. Be with Friends. Seek out exciting adventures. – AJK