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Style Icon: Phife Dawg On Marvin Gaye And Stevie Wonder

There were a lot of artists that influenced me when I first started to make music, especially Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. I had a thing for the music of Barry White, Donny Hathaway, Prince, the Isley Brothers, the O’Jays, Luther Vandross…we could go on and on. And of course there was always Michael Jackson as well. But Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder were the top two for me.

There were certain Stevie Wonder songs that really had me at a young age, like “My Cherie Amour” and “Isn’t She Lovely”. One of my favorites was “Superstitious”. I’d just be walking in the street and it’d be in my head, and I’d always be singing it to myself. I used to hear Marvin Gaye songs a lot around the same time. They played “What’s Going On” on the radio so much that I’d be like, “I wanna hear some album cuts,” know what I mean? I was around 6 or 7 then, but the song was a classic, and it probably came out before that. As I got older, I started digging and looking to hear songs from Marvin Gaye’s albums. My favorite is Here, My Dear, and my favorite song off that album—I think it’s off that album—is “When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You”. I like that song a lot. He was just incredible because he was doing and saying things that I’m sure a lot of people wanted to say, but were afraid to say. And he was pretty much the original lady’s man.


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This was all in my parents’ collection. They had all that around the house. I grew up in Queens, but my parents are from Trinidad. My mom came to the States when she was 13, and my dad came later—he was 18. But they grew up on the same block in Trinidad. She’d always go back to visit when she was in high school, and that’s how they linked up again. And eventually he came to America and they decided to get married. My mom had me when she was 19 and my dad was like, 21. But he came to the States way after that. He came for her. They didn’t really pick up on that kind of music until they came to America. My dad was always into music; my mom is a poet. They probably discovered it together. I don’t know how much my mom knows about hip-hop in general—I think she thought it was a fad, just like everybody else. But when she caught onto our music, she was in love with it. She’s pretty much been to every show in New York, Baltimore, DC. She listened to everybody in hip-hop. She likes Common, she likes Nas.

As I got older, Stevie Wonder kept making more hits, and he just kept going. He’s been pretty consistent over the years. The last couple songs that I heard, he changed stuff a little bit, but that’s to be expected—he’s been doing it for a while. It just doesn’t sound like the vintage Stevie. I think he tried to catch up with the times a little bit. Lyrically he’s still Stevie, but the music itself kind of sounds a little younger, know what I mean? Matter of fact, we did a concert with him in Japan back in 2010. He was part of the billing, it was a festival in Japan—Sonic something. And I saw Stevie Wonder play recently. It was real dope, because he did strictly songs from Songs In The Key Of Life. It was an amazing concert because he’s still got it. To this day, he’s still killing it.


Image courtesy of Okay Player

Published March 23, 2016.