The 38-year-old rapper paid tribute to the A Tribe Called Quest rapper, who died last month after suffering complications from diabetes, at New York's Apollo Theater on Tuesday night. Kanye took the mic to explain Phife's influence on him, as well as to rally against what he believes is unfair in the music industry.
"I might say something wrong as always, but I thought it'd be more wrong not to say nothing," Kanye (via Rolling Stone) told the crowd, which included Andre 3000, Busta Rhymes and Public Enemy's Chuck D. "[A Tribe Called Quest's 1991 album] Low End Theory was the first album I ever bought and I stayed in the suburbs of Chicago with my stepfather. I'd always get into trouble for listening to music during the week and then I would have to go to detention or study hall, but I enjoyed it 'cause I had that Tribe tape and it didn't really matter how long that walk was."
"Y'all made it okay in a city of Al Capone -- number one murder capital city -- for me to be me," he continued. "Tribe made Kanye West. Made the kid with the pink Polo. Made it so I could dress funny. I'm not sorry if I said something wrong."
The "All Day" rapper also took the opportunity to talk about the way people get paid in the music industry, pointing out the differences in power between those in charge and the artists themselves.
"And I be at these events in Hollywood, and I be at these events here, and I'm looking at how many more people inspire us and the walls that we have on our finances," he said. "Out in Hollywood, everybody got a mink coat and $500,000 car. And it's the way the music industry was set up was that all the people that run the industry and sign everybody from out of Queens, the Bronx, southside of Chicago, Atlanta make sure that they get that crib."
"I'm sorry, but that's what was on my f**kin' mind when I was sitting here thinking about how much these people inspire me and how powerful the influence of the music was and how it made that walk to study hall so short," he candidly admitted. "How it meant everything. It is everything. Music was stolen from us and corporatized and anybody that spoke up was demonized. Anything I ever did wrong, blame Tip and Phife 'cause y'all raised me."
Kanye concluded his speech with a call for hip-hop to get more respect.
"Maybe it ain't no [former NBA commissioner] David Stern that figured out to turn everybody in rap to multi-millionaires the way they turn ballplayers to multi-millionaires. But they got to honor it," he said. "I'm picturing the GRAMMYs right now, it's going to be a real quick [tribute]. Short, like when the Michael Jackson joint was short. Or when you get to Michael Jackson status, somebody say, 'Aw, you crazy 'cause you said the truth out loud.' You get in trouble for the truth."
"Honor, man. They gotta honor us; honor what hip-hop is," he stressed. It should not be surprising to you when the sports announcer [Scott Van Pelt] was influenced by Tribe. That should not be a surprise! That's the absolute truth!"
On Tuesday, Kanye took to Twitter to speak about the emotional memorial service.
"All respect prayers and love to Phife’s family. Thank you for so much inspiration," he tweeted. "His mother's poem at the celebration brought me to tears. Tribe changed music forever."