A private memorial service honoring A Tribe Called Quest rapper Phife Dawg will be held Tuesday at the Apollo Theater — but only fans who came out to St. Albans Park in Monday morning's pouring rain will be let in.
Dozens of die-hards turned up at the park in the band's home neighborhood before dawn, sitting on beach chairs after word spread over social media at the weekend about an event to honor the rapper, who died March 22 at the age of 45.
Around 10:15 a.m. Monday, Dres from Black Sheep showed up and began handing out T-shirts to the 75 or so fans already in the park. The number slowly grew as fans spilled out of cabs and cars up and down Sayres Avenue.
The T-shirts — white short sleeve shirts adorned with a cartoon dog and Phife's name — are now the tickets for entry to the private memorial service, "A Celebration of Phife," which will take place at the Apollo on Tuesday evening, organizers said.
The doors open at 4:30 p.m. and all fans are required to wear the shirts, organizers said. A spokeswoman for the Apollo said the event will be limited to family, friends and those with the T-shirts.
Dres — who posed for photos with the many fans — said they decided to go the park route because they wanted to bring it back to where the group started rapping.
The event admission was a nice reward for fans who said they came to St. Albans unsure of what to expect.
Jim McGann, who came up from Newark, Del. after seeing a post on social media, said the two and a half hour drive was worth it for the chance to honor Phife.
"A Tribe Called Quest changed the way I listen to music since 1991," he said.
Nathan Goodly, from Long Beach, CA, happened to be in New York City on vacation with his wife. After he saw the post on social media, he told his other half, "I gotta be there" and took a $50 cab ride to St. Albans.
"I wouldn't miss this for the world," he said. "I was raised off Tribe. It motivated me throughout my life."
Hours after the ticket giveaway, the funeral procession for Phife Dawg came down alongside the park, as fans put up peace signs and held up A Tribe Called Quest records.
Police said his funeral, which was private, took place Monday morning at a church on Sutphin Boulevard.
Buzz Clay, 46, was on his lunch break as an MTA bus driver. He grew up with the group, remembering when Jarobi, Q-Tip and Phife would hang out by the handball courts on 172nd Street.
"Basketball coaching and rhyming, we had a lot in common," he said.
Clay is also a producer and said he's been inspired because of the success of Tribe.
"It's why I keep doing it, seeing someone you know make it," he said.
More importantly, as the members of Tribe became famous, they never forgot where they came from, he said.
"They always kept it real. Everyone in Jamaica, Queens showed them love," he said.
"They's the reason why Phife was so loved."