Phife Dawg is a founding member of one of Hip-Hop’s most endearing and influential groups: A Tribe Called Quest. I Am Hip-Hop caught up with Phife on the phone for a relaxed conversation as he babysat his nieces.
Q. What is the best live show experience you’ve had with Tribe and also as a solo artist?
The best experience I had on stage with Tribe would have to be Howard Homecoming in DC. Every time we did that it was pretty great experience. Then as far as solo, matter fact, when I came out to London, I forgot the name of the venue but they showed the documentary right before I performed. And another time I performed at the Jazz Café. That was pretty dope.
Q. What does being a solo artist allow you to do on record or live that you couldn’t do in a group situation?
That’s basically it… the only difference is being in a group and being solo. Whatever you do, you have to take into consideration that there’s three other members. Whereas as a soloist, you pick up and do what you want to do. It’s just me and my DJ. That’s the only difference really.
Q. You’re a keen sports fan. Are there projects in the future you have to do with sports?
Yeah, I’m working on my own sports podcast right now. Sports radio show as well as doing some documentaries real soon so I’m working on that right so y’all definitely see me on that.
Q. What are the documentaries about?
I haven’t figured it out yet. There’s a couple of athletes I want to interview and we would take it from there. Basketball, American Football… The dream athlete would have been Allan Iverson but he already has a documentary. Kobi Bryant. I’m sure everybody is already at him for a documentary so that would be difficult because he’s one of the more popular athletes. I would love to interview old athletes from back in the day. They have a lot of stories. Don Maddingly, Barry Bond, Ivy Smith. They’re already hall of famous so I know they have a lot of stories to tell.
Q. Are you into football/soccer at all?
My DJ is, so any information I need, he tells me. The same way I tell him about basketball, he tells me about soccer. We exchange information. But my father is from Trinidad and he grew up playing soccer. The little that I knew I got from him.
Q. Do you ever visit Trinidad?
Yeah I haven’t been since I got married in 2005 which was ten years ago. I haven’t been for a while.
Q. Several pioneering Hip-Hop artists have roots in the Caribbean. To what extent to you think that is influential is developing their styles?
It’s important overall as far as hip-hop is concerned being that the drums and things of that nature are from the Caribbean. You have a pioneer like Kool Herc who set off everything along with Bambaata and Red Alert in the Bronx, the home of Hip-hop. He pretty much came over from Jamaica. It’s definitely a marriage, just like sports and hip-hop is. All the drums, the rhythms so it’s definitely important. If you’re an emcee that happens to be from the Caribbean such as myself, KRS One, Biggie, it was definitely important to us because it was already a part of our culture. We didn’t have to force the issue to incorporate it into what we were doing it as emcees. Not to mention we was already listening to different reggae artists all day anyway. New York is the home of hip-hop but in New York there’s also a bunch of people from all over the Caribbean or the east coast for that matter. It’s nothing new to us; it’s definitely already in our DNA.
Q. What qualities do you admire or respect in other people?
Just straight up honesty man. Honesty is the best policy, everyday all day. You can’t go wrong. You know where a person is coming from. And I like consistency too. At least I know if you are consistently a moody person, I know what to expect.
Q. Talking of honesty, how did Jarobi crying in the documentary feel? (For those who haven’t seen it, Jarobi cried when talking about Phife’s sugar addiction and diabetes turmoil)
Ha ha ha, that’s funny! Well, he’s been one of my best friends since he was 12 and I was 13. So I couldn’t tell you the last time I seen him cry so for him to do that was like… I knew it was honest, it was sincere, but I wasn’t trying to cry along with it! But you know I teased him about it but I knew it was real.
Q. Some people consider one of the most beautiful moments in the documentary and Hip-Hop because it was honest, genuine, brotherhood and concern
You know how certain groups get together. They don’t really know each other. That’s not Tribe Called Quest. I’ve known Jarobi since I was 13. I’ve known Q tip since I was 2. I’ve known Ali since I was 13. Before we were a group, we were a family first. When you see something like that go down, you know it’s sincere off top.
Q. So on to some laughter now… who’s the funniest person you’ve met in Hip-Hop?
The funniest person I’ve met in Hip-Hop would have to be Jarobi and all three members of De La Soul. And Busta.
Q. When was the last time you saw Busta?
Yeah I went to New York a month ago and I hung out with him at the studio. He’s still same old crazy Busta, it’s good to see that.
Q. It’s actually good to hear that! In terms of your solo work, what’s happening next?
I’m working on my solo album at the moment. It’s called MUTTYmorPHosis. I’m gonna drop a new a single in the fall maybe. And another one, the top of the year and then drop the album in spring.
Q. Did you manage to get a beat from Erick Sermon?
Nah… I need to hit him up though. But it’s funny you said that though cuz I just spoke to DJ Scratch a couple of days ago so I’m supposed to get something from him.
Q. Moving on to something a little serious… What are your thoughts on Baltimore, the revolt that is taking place there and the overall dispensability of Black life in the USA?
It’s pretty depressing because I have a 19 year old and I gotta worry every day. So he doesn’t come to no situation like that. It’s a matter of prayer. My mother calls every day to make sure we’re fine. He’s a young black kid. He doesn’t cause any trouble but the way police are doing things these days is straight up wrong all across the board. We pray for him every day to make sure he’s in good hands. As far as Baltimore, Ferguson, the young lady in Detroit who got shot (Renisha McBride)… all those places where things have happened for the past two and half years. We have a right to march. Just so happens that the movie Selma came out at a perfect time.
Q. How has moving out to the West in the Sun helped your health?
That pretty much saved my life. When I got sick (diabetes), I was still living in Atlanta. I still have a home in Atlanta. I met my wife in 1998 and I didn’t get sick until 2003. And she’s from Oakland. So I eventually got out here in 2004 and we got married in 2005. The doctors were much better out here compared to Atlanta. That pretty much saved my life because I got the kidney out here from her. But now I need another one cuz it only lasted a few years so I’m about to get a new one at the end of the year or the start of next year. I’m doing okay, it’s all good.
Q. What’s your favourite food to eat?
I like chicken. I like Trinidadian food or soul food. I like chicken, steak, fish. As far as sides I like green beans, black eyed peas. Stuff like that. I do my best to eat vegetables. I’ve always been a vegetable person.
Q. Who are your favourite new emcees?
I like J Cole. I like Kendrick Lamar. Joey Badass and the whole Pro Era crew.
Q. What are your favourite flicks?
Pretty much all my favourite flicks are old school. Coming to America. Also, I like Anchor Man a lot. I like anything with Will Ferell. I like Casino. I still watch Goodfellas. Scarface. I’m also into comedies. I love to laugh.
Q. Did you watch the film Fresh?
Yeah with the little boy? (Sean Nelson) Yeah, yeah, yeah I met that kid a few years ago. He’s also in a movie called the Wood with Omar Epps. He’s grown now. The movie chronicles him and two other guys… Omar Epps and Richard Jones were in high school by then. He’s a very good actor.
Q. What forces of nature would it take for another Tribe Called Quest tour or album?
I have no idea… you know, it was up to me, I’d be cool with it. But, like I said earlier, you have to consider three other people in the group. The same applies to whether we get back together and do anything. I can’t speak on it other than I would like it but it doesn’t look like it’s gonna happen.
Q. Any final shoutouts?
The new album.. the sports show.. that’s about it, I think we went over everything!
Catch Phife Dawg courtesy of the Doctor’s Orders at Plan B on Friday 22nd of May. For more information and tickets visit http://thedoctorsorders.com/phifedawg/
By Wasif Sayyed
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