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Phife Dawg - conducted by Nicole Mosley  

Phife Dawg (A Tribe Called Quest)

September 2000

These are the transcripts of an interview with and Phife Dawg, conducted by Nicole Mosley on September 13th, 2000. Phife Dawg is well known for his part in the legendary group A Tribe Called Quest and has just dropped his solo debut 'Ventilation.'

MVRemix: After the Love Movement dropped, you seem to have disappeared. What have you been up to all that time?

Phife Dawg: Just observing everybody. Seeing what's going on with their stuff, so when I came out with mine I knew where I was going exactly, which was the total opposite. I've just been laying in the cut working on what I had to work on.

MVRemix: Your new album is called Ventilation. Do you in fact do a lot of venting on this project?

Phife Dawg: Enough. It's certain things that I feel like I had to get off my chest. I've always wanted my voice to be heard, but forever reason there was a lot of player hating going on.

MVRemix: Can you elaborate on that some more?

Phife Dawg: I guess from I wanted to do my project since Midnight Marauders came out. After that, I wanted to do my project, and they'll always sweep my ideas under the rug. To make a long story short, I just basically wanted to do what Wu-Tang set out and did. Everybody was trying to make it seem like "Oh, you're going to break the group up by doing that." And that really wasn't necessarily true. If everybody was thinking about it from a business aspect, it wouldn't have been like that.

MVRemix: On this album you have more of an underground type feel with production. Hi-Tek lays some joints, and Pete Rock also. Is this something that you've always wanted to do since the Tribe days?

Phife Dawg: Well, I don't really like using the word "underground" too much anymore because a lot of people label stuff underground just because their shit is kind of corny. For me, it's like good music is good music. It wasn't so much big name producers. I wanted people like Premier on it, but I couldn't really get in touch with him. It was all about whoever had a hot beat.

MVRemix: Since you don't use the word "underground" how would you classify your style and this album?

Phife Dawg: It's authentic hip-hop the way it used to be and the way it should always be. Everybody is into making the fast dollar and not looking at the longevity part of it. I've been doing it for a while, so I know a little better than the rest of these cats on how it should be. I don't consider myself commercially friendly or anything like that. I just rhyme how I feel for the moment, and if it happens to cross over like that, so be it. I don't reach to get to that point.

MVRemix: A Tribe Called Quest was a legendary group, and after the break up I'm quite sure major labels would've been more than happy to have you on their team. Why did you decide to go with a small independent like Groove Attack?

Phife Dawg: Because at the end of the day these major labels can give you from five million dollars to 500 dollars, whatever. You might love it, but at the end of the day it's their project. And being on Jive for a whole decade it was always their project. As hard as we worked on it, it was their project. With Groove Attack they gave me my freedom, first and foremost, and that's why I got down with them. Mad folks are walking around talking about "Why did Phife get with such a small label?" They gave me my freedom and that's all I really wanted out of this.

MVRemix: Did your experience with Jive play a major part in your decision? It seems that Jive is focusing more on their pop artists, and keeping all of their hip-hop towards the back.

Phife Dawg: Definitely. Definitely a major part. Now if these major labels could come with the total package, get down, but they're so freaking scared to do anything. Instead of looking for the next best thing, they rather go look for the next Sisqo, the next DMX, or the next Redman, when there's only one Sisqo, there's only one DMX, there's only one Redman. It's just money to them, they don't really care. I hate to look at something as a waste, and I know my album's banging, so I rather do it with a label that will have appreciation for it.

MVRemix: Has Groove Attack been showing you a lot of love?

Phife Dawg: Yeah, no doubt. I've been basically doing most of the footwork anyway. You know I got to love my shit.

MVRemix: Would you recommend that more artists go the independent route instead of trying to hop on a major label?

Phife Dawg: A lot of different rappers are trying to do their thing independent nowadays. Everything just pulls them away for the moment. In a minute, everybody's going to be independent.

MVRemix: Why do you think that?

Phife Dawg: Well, I guess when they get with these majors they realize how it's ran. Real shiesty. Like we said back in '91 "Industry rule #4080/record company people are shady." People are just starting to realize that in 2000 when we said it back then.

MVRemix: The word has been going around that you're really popular in Europe. Is that true?

Phife Dawg: Yeah, well Tribe had to come off over there first before we came off over here. So we were always kind of big over there. I just hate traveling that far.

MVRemix: Do Europeans show more love and respect for hip-hop than the Americans do?

Phife Dawg: Yeah, they have more of an appreciation for it. They want to hear the Mos Defs, the Gangstarrs, people like that. They don't want to hear nobody talk about Range Rovers and ice and all that shit. They use Range Rovers and Benzes for cabs out there, they don't care about that. That's backwards to them.

MVRemix: Do you think if we applied that attitude in the states it'll be better off?

Phife Dawg: Yeah, and there's nothing wrong with getting your party on all the time or getting your smoke on and your drink on, there's nothing wrong with that because that's a part of life that happens. But there's more to life than just getting your drink and party on. The quicker people realize that, the better music would be because music sucks right now, on the real. I don't give a fuck what it is, country, hip-hop blues, the shit is corny right now.

MVRemix: Are you hoping to improve all of that and open up some eyes with your "Ventilation" album?

Phife Dawg: I'm hoping people recognize it like that. I definitely put in work. Like I said, I hate to see things wasted.

MVRemix: You've been involved in the hip-hop game for a decade. What are some of the changes for good and bad that you've witnessed?

Phife Dawg: I just always easily some it up like this, life is a cycle. When we came out it was all about afrocentricity and people started to overdo that. Then it got into the whole criminal vibe, and then it got into the party vibe. So it's going to come back around. It's like a clock, it's going to come back around.

MVRemix: So how have you managed to stay away from the trends?

Phife Dawg: I've never considered myself a follower even though most of the media would like to think that Q-Tip was the only front man in Tribe. But, I've never been a follower. Even if it was a member of my group, I never followed them. I guess that's why they dubbed me the black sheep of the group. I was always on some other [thing]. I always just try to do Phife.

MVRemix: Do you have any personal regrets about things you've done in the past?

Phife Dawg: I wish I would've done my solo album much earlier. That's a big regret I have.

MVRemix: When is the last time you spoke to Q-Tip and Ali?

Phife Dawg: I haven't spoke to Ali since May. I spoke to Q-Tip like a month ago for the first time in a long time. Probably over a whole year.

MVRemix: So are all three of you on good terms? You've stated before that a lot of selfishness caused the break up.

Phife Dawg: I still feel that way. The reason why we spoke a couple of weeks ago is because we had to resolve some issues.

MVRemix: Do you think that's a consequence of being in a group opposed to going solo. The fact that you can't fully express yourself?

Phife Dawg: It got bad after awhile, but that's because it was a lot of Girl Scout bullshit going on. Muthaphuckas couldn't just be real with the shit. "Yo, I want to do this, so let me go and do it. The wanted to be on some sneaky shit. I really don't want to get into that because I'm about to snap. We were to cool for that. Muthaphuckas just went and did some old punk shit. And then what pissed me off even more, the album that came out of it. Come on man, you're going to break the group up to come out with that?

MVRemix: Which album are you referring to?

Phife Dawg: Amplified. Come on! The beats were banging, but lyrically he's ten times better than that. It's already bad enough all my fucking Bears up there [at Morgan] pissed because we broke up. Then you're going to come out with that? That just puts more pressure on my shit. "Okay, what the fuck is Phife going to come out with?"

MVRemix: Do you feel like you have a lot of pressure and weight on your shoulders with this album?

Phife Dawg: As far as what he came out with, yeah. Before that I was cool. I was going to do what I had to do regardless. But when I heard how his album came out and the reception that he got I'm like "oh great." But I'm not really retting it.

MVRemix: You've stated that you will never move back to New York. Why is that since New York is your home, and also the so called home of hip-hop?

Phife Dawg: That's the best question I've been asked since I've been doing interviews. The reason why I won't move back to New York is because when I moved away in '93. Some people move away in order to grow as individuals. I felt stagnant in New York. I couldn't do what I wanted to do. I was 22 years old and had to sneak girls in my house. I felt like "Naw, this can't work." I'm making money doing music, I need to get my own joint. I stayed with my grandmother, who was a devout Seven-Day Adventist, and she's West Indian and you know their not having it. So with all due respect I decided to move out. But, the shocker came when I decided to move to Atlanta. I used to hang out here all the time and I just like it like that. And the cost of living is cool, especially if you're established to a certain extent. So I decided to leave New York because I felt like I needed something new for myself, and at the time I was dating somebody that I was planning on being with like that. Of course that didn't work out. The only reason I go back to New York is to see my family and watch an occasional Knick game or the Jets. New York is the home of hip-hop, but they don't treat it like it no more. I first noticed it when I moved a lot of people would talk "Phife played himself moving to Atlanta…What's up with that southern bullshit?" And I come home in '98 for the NBA All Star game and Nick Van Exel had a party and Kid Capri was Djing. He threw on Incarcerated Scarfaces, the Raekwan joint. The muthaphuckas were standing around like they didn't know what the hell was on. That muthaphucka Kid Capri threw on Master P, niggas was throwing elbows all over the muthaphucking place.

MVRemix: So New York isn't like we see on the television as far as hip-hop is concerned?

Phife Dawg: They do, but they starting to use "New York is the home of hip-hop" as a crutch. I'm not talking about the official hip-hop niggas. I'm talking about the fake niggas that don't know nothing about a Zulu Nation or none of that. That's half of New York right now, up in the party fronting like they don't know who Wu-Tang is no more. How you not going to know who Wu-Tang is? The radio in New York is cool; they give everybody a chance. They'll play down south, they'll play up north, they'll play out west. But the thing that pisses me off is when I go to down south spots like New Orleans, or Houston or Dallas, can I hear Mobb Deep? Can I hear Wu-Tang? Can I hear Cam'Ron? All I hear is their local artists. That kind of pisses me off with New York in a way too. But, I understand it's a business. New York is the official home of hip-hop, but right now I'm not too sure about that. When you go to Cleveland, them niggas support Bone Thugs, you go to Chicago they support Twista, or Da Brat, or Common. You go to Houston they support Geto Boys, or Scarface, or UGK. Baltimore, they fucking support Sisqo. You go to New York, muthaphuckas out there be on some "Oh, I know Busta Rhymes' momma's brother uncle" instead of going out there and supporting a nigga. They rather talk that shit, they know somebody family. You and I both know the only people that buy records is females anyway.

MVRemix: What is it that you want to accomplish with your solo career?

Phife Dawg: When cats hear the album, I just want them to walk away saying "Yo, real emcees and people that take pride in their work are still out there, not just fashion emcees and all that." It's easy to rhyme about Dolce & Gabanna. Anybody can do that bullshit. I just feel like everybody should have a variety. The only person that rhymes about material things that can get over with it nowadays is Jay-Z. And one of the reasons why he gets away with it is because of his style, the way he does it. He has a sarcastic way of rhyming, and in a lot of people's eyes he can't do no wrong. You just let it be.

MVRemix: It seems like a lot of people are trying to copy that now though.

Phife Dawg: Yeah, and that's the problem. There's only one fucking Jay-Z, everybody can't be that nigga. Like Ghostface said on Raekwon's album, "Anybody that sound like me, I'm going to approach a nigga."

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