DFW Music News

Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest: "I'm Not Sure If People Really Care Like They Used To."

A Tribe Called Quest is without a doubt one of the most hailed groups in the storied past of hip-hop. And 2011 marks an important cathartic time for the group as we look back 20 years to the date that the group released its seminal album, The Low End Theory

This year also saw the release of a documentary on the group called Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest directed by Michael Rapaport. 

The group's impressive 2011 calendar continues tonight as Phife Dawg comes to town to perform a free show as part of the Dallas stop of the Gentleman Jack Arts, Beats + Lyrics tour, which goes down tonight at the Palladium Ballroom, where A.Dd+ and The Gritz will also perform.

In advance of Phife's appearance, we got the chance to catch up with him and to ask him about the history of Tribe, what it was like to make the documentary and, of course, a little NBA basketball. 

Check out our conversation in full after the jump.

Is this going to be your first appearance on the Arts, Beats + Lyrics Tour?
Yeah. I'm doing Dallas, that'll be the first one I do. 

I'm really digging the way that the AB+L team brings together all four elements of hip-hop: urban and graffiti art, emceeing, Djing and breakdancing. Coming from the golden age of New York hip-hop, the block party era, how do think that that era has influenced what hip-hop is trying to do today?

It's nowhere close. I don't wanna sound bitter or anything like that, but I'm not sure if people really care like they used to. Back then, it was honest, it was pure, and you never knew what could happen other than you knew for sure you were gonna have a good time. Nowadays, it's pretty much hit or miss. It doesn't have the same quality that it used to have. The music itself, the actual parties or anything like that. I guess you could call my feelings Neanderthal or primitive or whatever the case may be, but that's how I feel. It was a can't-miss back then. I do definitely wish it would go back to that. 

Do you think that the Internet, technology and how easy it has made it to find music has something to do with that?
To a certain extent, yeah. I mean people have it really, really good these days and it goes to the point where a lot of laziness sets in. But even with the computers and everything out there, you can still put out good music. You can still have a good turnout at a block party and have the party be hot. I don't think the computer has that much to do with it, life is what you make it. And I don't think people are putting their best foot forward so to speak.

It's been 20 years since the release of A Tribe Called Quest's second album, The Low End Theory. What's your stance on the album two decades later on? Could you ever have imagined the impact that it has made?
No. And I can't even fathom that it's been 20 years. It seems like just yesterday, y'know, Stella was gettin' her groove back. So now that it's 20 years later it's like "Wow!" I'm just glad that I'm here to take whatever accolades may come with it. It's a real good feeling when people can go back to such a throwback like that. And it feels really really good to be appreciated 20 years later, definitely. A lot of people can't say that so you just have to take your blessings and walk with them.

We are definitely entering the era where Tribe's music is entering history books. I read today that Eric B. and Rakim got nominated to next year's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction class.
Oh really?! That's fire. That is fire.

Well, you heard it here first. And I think that Tribe is next in line, as far as hip-hop goes to get those accolades. Are you prepared for that? 

Naw. I wasn't prepared for 20 years since Low End Theory, I wasn't prepared for this documentary, I'm never prepared. I don't think you could really prepare yourself for certain things. Certain things are just out of your control, but I definitely humbly accept.

Now, I'm a huge Tribe fan, and watching the documentary made me very emotional, and that's viewing it from the outside. I can't even imagine the emotions that it brought up for members of the group. What was it like working with Michael Rapaport unfurling a lot of this old stuff and how did you cope with those emotions?
I mean, it wasn't tough at all; it was actually cool working with Rapaport. He's actually very funny. He's all over the place. He's a wild dude, and I'm wild in my own right, just having fun and cracking jokes and things of that nature, so it wasn't pressure. It wasn't even getting sad or none of that. It was just documenting. Going down memory lane wasn't so bad. I didn't get emotional about things until I actually saw the movie at Sundance and was able to witness it in front of 300 people watching it with me. And, then, for them to embrace the movie the way that they did, that's when I ended up getting emotional 'cause I really didn't know what to expect. But I saw the movie at least three or four times before Sundance and it wasn't a big deal. But it's really a big difference watching it by yourself or watching it with your family versus 300 people who you don't even know who may have been part of your support system from day one. That's where the emotions came into play. But other than that, it was cool.

Do you personally regret A Tribe Called Quest breaking up?

Uh, yeah. For the fans' sake, yeah. Internally, maybe not so much. I think it was something that had to happen. What you don't wanna do is force the issue. You can take the donkey to water but you can't force him to drink it. But, for the fans' sake, I do regret it. I love the fans so much because they've stuck with us regardless. I mean, we haven't done a studio album in 13 years now and they still treat us like we have the hottest record on the street. That ain't nothin' but blessings. That ain't nothin' but love right there.

Is there any chance that the final album of your contract gets made, like the documentary teased? Is there a possibility that we get new Tribe music?
I'm not sure. We're so far away from that right now. I don't know what's gonna happen with that, but the way I see it, [the record label] waited this long so who knows. All I know is they're gonna have to come correct whatever the case may be. If there's even a chance, they're gonna have to come correct.

Do you think that the process of making the documentary put Tribe closer to or further away from getting that last album made?
I have no idea. I haven't really spoken to the rest of the guys about what the movie has done for them. I know there was a lot of back and forth about people supporting the movie, people not supporting the movie. So I really don't know what the movie has done for everyone else. But, for me personally, with everything that I went through from a health aspect [with diabetes], my attitude was: Listen, we've missed out on a lot of things as a group. And for me to be here, if you would have told me two, three, four, five years ago that you're gonna be honored at [VH1's] Hip Hop Honors, that you're gonna have a documentary put out on you, that people are gonna have you in demand again, I would have thought you were crazy. Or, "Phife you're gonna receive a kidney and everything's gonna be alright." I would have thought you were crazy. But, being that I'm here, I'm living proof, my plan is not to miss out on shit. It wasn't me going against the grain or going against the group, I just felt how I felt and I ran with it. So I definitely have no regrets about doing this film from day one. To be honest, I was the last person in the group to be approached about this film. Everybody had already said yes. Now could I have said no to it? Yeah, sure. But I fell in line with the rest of the group. Now I didn't now that it was gonna come out the way that it came out but I have no regrets about it at all. It is what it is. If The Doors could do one and be successful, then Tribe could do one. Why not?

What kind of stuff are you listening to these days?

I a real old soul, man. I'm still Patti Labelle, I'm still The O'Jays, I'm still Chaka Khan, I'm B-52's, I'm Blink-182, I'm Maroon 5, I'm Aretha Franklin, I'm Angela Winbush, as well as The Isley Brothers, Isaac Hayes. As far as new stuff, I like J. Cole a lot, I like the latest album from Lil Wayne, I like the latest album from Game, the Watch the Throne with Kanye and Jay-Z. There's a plethora of things. But, for the most part, I'm old school. If there's 24 hours in a day, I'm at least 12 hours of old school. Stevie Wonder and things of that nature. I mean, that's where I get a lot of my ideas from as far as sampling things, making beats and stuff like that. 

What kind of stuff should the Dallas fans be expecting from your show on Friday, or are you going to surprise us?

I don't give out that type of information. But, shout out to Mark Cuban and the Mavericks. Y'all finally did it. That's what's up!

I'm glad that you mentioned that. Knowing how huge of an NBA fan that you are, I wasn't about to let you go without mentioning our championship. What do you think about our chances to repeat?

Whoa! I don't know, kiddo! I don't know! First of all, hopefully there'll be a season. That's number one. Number two, I think y'all have a very good chance to repeat for the simple fact that you guys won a championship without the services of a couple of people, one notably being Caron Butler. And I've been a fan of Caron Butler since his days at UConn. It was unfortunate that he was injured and wasn't able to play in The Finals. No disrespect, but I actually picked the Heat to win in 7. But, as a fan, I definitely wanted Dallas to win.

Phife Dawg performs tonight at the Palladium Ballroom

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Nic Hernandez