Sometimes you get interviews with artists you admire and sometimes you get lucky enough to talk with one of your idols. A Tribe Called Quest was the sort of group you grew up to, able to see their influence cast over millions. You cant downplay the way they helped to shape the world of hip-hop. If you had told me ten years ago that Id have gone one on one with Phife Dawg, I would have laughed in your face. So there I was, and here is what went down.
Whats it like doing it solo?
Its cool. I feel like I dont have to answer to nobody and just do it like I want to do it. I dont have to worry about whether he likes it or anything like that.
What was the approach going into the studio?
There is no real approach. Im real spontaneous when I go into the studio. The only thing that was a given was that I had the studio on certain days. When I was going in, I couldnt even tell you what I was writing about. I just go in and let the track move me. The album came together like that and we sequenced it up right. Thats it.
Do you pay attention to what is happening or just ignore radio?
I dont listen to radio that much. I listen to a lot of different cds to make sure I dont sound like anybody, but on the norm I dont listen to hip-hop, I listen to stuff like the Ojays. There are a select few that I listen to on the norm, but I listen to what everyone is doing before I do mine so I can stand out on my own.
Was it the experience with Jive Records that made you want to go the independent route or was it something you were always interested in doing?
It was something I truly wanted to do, but yeah, Jive definitely pushed me to a certain extent. The independent thing was my choice. As you see, Tip chose to go to Arista, but I wanted to go independent because I could get my freedom more so than a major.
So you could be the producer, A&R, and all that.
Yeah, no doubt.
I was wondering if its those on the outside making a big deal about the bitterness between you and Q-Tip and the song “Flawless” or if there really is something there?
I guess everyone is making it a big deal, but it is what it is. Theyll always make everything a big deal. You know what Im saying? (laughs) I said what I said because that is how I felt. (the lyrics in question are: “go ‘head/play yourself with those ho’ like hooks/sing ballads if it’s all about that Maxwell look…now tell me what you’re rhyming for/this shit is all about skills/fuck a fashion show.”) I only really said one thing about him on it, but Im really talking about the state of hip-hop in general.
And the state of hip-hop, are you talking about the whole gangsta rap comeback?
Do you worry about where hip-hop is heading?
Well, I know for a fact that life is like a circle and what comes around goes around. When we came in the game it was more of a fun thing. We came with the metaphors and there was the whole afrocentricity, but then the whole gangsta rap thing came along with NWA, Kool G. Rap, and then came a few other rappers. The materialism was kind of cool because there was a select few rappers that did it and did it well. Now everyone is on that bandwagon and everyone isnt good at it. But then, even if they are good at it, there is more to life than just materialism.
Now De La Soul has a new release, Poor Righteous Teachers have one coming out. Do you see hip-hop flip-flopping back to the love like the first Tribe album?
Its going to come back to what it was and its going to go back to the jiggy thing. Its just life. Once people catch onto something, they dont let it go for a while. That is the sad part because that only happens in America. Overseas its not like that.
Does it blow your mind that so many people look up to you as a pioneer of that hip- hop genre and really a forefather in rap?
Does it blow my mind? To a certain extent. I think the big reward at the end of the day is when people walk up on me and be like, Yo, you guys need to do another album or You changed the way I was thinking because I was heading in the direction and because of your music I headed this way. That means a lot, because there was a time when we went into the studio because we loved it. To change peoples thinking means so much.
Like you were saying, you did it for fun on the first record and you can feel that vibe. Did the music tail off on the last two albums because it became a business?
Definitely. Life isnt all fun and games, of course.
Did you have fun with the solo album?
Yeah, I had fun, but its called Ventilation because there were a lot of things I had to get off my chest. It was fun, but at the same time it was stressful. I just tried to relieve a lot of stress by doing this album. Hip-hop is fun right now as we speak, but after a while it becomes redundant when everyone is talking about the same thing.
+ charlie craine