Phife Dawg, with his high-pitched voice and Q-Tip with his mellow, mid-tone delivery, were the lyrical ying and yang of A Tribe Called Quest, one of the most significant hip-hop groups in existence. The new documentary caused a rift in the group, as rolling out reported several weeks ago. The group’s infighting — Q-Tip questioned Phife Dawg’s commitment to the group, and Phife Dawg believed Q-Tip was only committed to himself — led to the Tribe’s sudden demise.
Most important, it left Q-Tip and Phife Dawg’s lifelong friendship in shambles. Phife Dawg, in Chicago to promote the film, gave rolling out an update.
What did you expect this journey with A Tribe Called Quest to be?
I didn’t know what to expect. In my neighborhood, you did sports or you did music, hip-hop music, that is. … I started rhyming because it was the in thing to do, I was the shortest in my class, in my neighborhood on the basketball court, so I always had something to prove. We did it to get girls.
Q-Tip says that from day one he had to tell you to “come on,” come on to the studio, come on to do the music … is that how you recall it?
Yes, because I was still doing what 17-year-olds do; trying to be Nino Brown in the ‘hood. Running around and just being silly, not realizing that this could really set me up. I was thinking short term, before finally starting to go on the road to support the campaign for the new album.
And all the love we were getting, and that’s what made me realize that this could be major.
By the time Low End Theory came around, I was all in, I was ready to get it in and it was all systems go after that.
Did you really feel like a backup member in the Supremes, whereas Q-Tip was Diana?
I really did feel that way. Whether the management treated it like that, or whether the label treated it like that, and the media definitely treated it like that, but you can’t knock them for what they don’t know. But what hurts is when that person treated it like that, and I don’t think he even knew that that’s what it was.
It was just everything surrounding us made it all cloudy, he might have had people in his ear, ‘you don’t need to be in a group, son,’ blah, blah, blah. I had people in my ear, telling me, ‘yo, they ain’t checking for you,’ you know what I’m saying?
At the end of the day, we’ve known each other longer outside of our respective families, we should have been able to sit down and hash that out.
I definitely blame part of that on my end because I didn’t communicate that.
Have you heard from Q-Tip since the film?
Yeah, just recently we had a sit-down. I guess the movie brought up some things that we never really were able to iron out. I’m a fault for some of that for not communicating it. After a while I just threw my hands in the air.
But I think that getting together was the right thing to do. We’re at a good place right now.
So you are all ready for a reunion tour?
Let’s take it one step at a time, easier said than done. But rekindling the friendship is more important than anything else. Hopefully, all of that business stuff will fall into place because we’re getting along.
What words of advice do you have for hip-hop kids who are trying to get into the game right now?
Be yourself, think long range, think about the long haul. If you only want to be in this for a minute, I suggest that you leave it alone because when it backfires it’s not going to be pretty. Your feelings are going to get hurt, you better lace up your boots and get ready for a wild ride.
Nowadays no one is really selling records except maybe Rihanna and Chris Brown, Lil Wayne … but a lot of the other artists, they are not really seeing it like that. So, you have to have a Plan B all the way to Z, in this industry nowadays.
It’s not like when we first came out and labels really put their best foot forward behind you, it’s not like that anymore. You’re better off just going the indie route and doing it yourself.