The True Story Behind That Quintessential Phife Dawg Photograph

Photographer Al Pereira recounts the making of this photo of the legend, which was shared widely after his death.

March 24, 2016

In the hours after the passing of Phife Dawg, there were many heartfelt tributes released by those who knew him personally and those who loved his music. Perhaps the most moving were the words of his fellow group members, who wrote in a statement: "He's affected us as much as he's affected all of you. We're inspired by his daily joy and courage. He wasn't in pain. He was happy."


These days we memorialize on Instagram and Twitter, and one photo of Phife surfaced prominently on timelines and feeds on Wednesday. The black-and-white shot above, featured the MC in his younger days, striking a goofy pose. It was taken by photographer Al Pereira, who worked with musicians for many years but now works as the official team photographer for the New York Jets. Over the phone Wednesday night, Pereira explained backstory of the iconic shot and reflected on the rapper's legacy.

Al Pereira: That was taken in September 1991. I was doing something for East Coast rocker. Quest crossed over to everybody and it was a cover story. And it was just in the studio. I don't remember which. I did a bunch of things with quest, even when there were four of them. I knew the guys a little bit and I liked them. Phife was a quiet guy, he'd let the other two guys goof around or talk or whatever depending on the circumstances. I was excited because tip was doing stuff for an album, looking for samples while we were shooting. There was a guy taking photos that's interesting, every time I looked back, Phife would be doing these little moves, like he was doing in that picture. And trying to see if he could get my attention over my shoulder but then when I was looking he would stop. In that particular shot I was able to catch him really quick.

Besides my music career, I've been the team photographer for the NY Jets for the last 20 years. And a guy like Phife perpared me for a life taking—we call it mean mugging or whatever. When I take head shots, they're trying to look like football players, but I like the guys smiling or having fun. Phife was the guy smiling until the camera comes out and then he'd have this serious face, I always felt it was an accomplishment if I can get him to crack a smile. He was a fun guy to be around.

The True Story Behind That Quintessential Phife Dawg Photograph