A lazy reader of the internet would believe that since A Tribe Called Quest's 1998 breakup, Q-Tip has a platinum album and Grammy wins, while Phife Dawg has done little more than gotten a kidney transplant and eaten a bag of Funyons.
Of course, there's much more to it than that. Though he's been offline for a minute, Phife has a new album in the works and a mini-tour in progress. We caught up with the self-proclaimed Funky Diabetic prior to tomorrow's show at The Roxy to talk new projects, Q-Tip, and Tupac's recent “resurrection.”
Did you catch the video of Tupac's hologram playing Coachella?
Phife Dawg: Yeah, I heard about it. I like it. I think, at the end of the day, it's just a matter of paying homage… We pay homage to the slain all the time. This is definitely different, but people love 'Pac so much, so I think that's cool.
How would you feel if someone had a mock-up of you doing a verse from “Award Tour” after you'd died?
If I'm dead, I wouldn't have a choice, right? [Laughs] But it's love. Even if I'm on my deathbed, I don't think I'd have a problem with it. As long as they're not using me to sell something.
Word has it you've been prepping an album for a while. How's that coming along?
Trying to finish it up, you know… Just got a couple sample clearances that are holding me up – but so far, so good… It's got a couple vintage Tribe sounds, but for the most part it's just hip-hop. Couple of grimy joints, couple of lovey-dovey joints. Basically something for everybody.
The title, Songs in the Key of Phife: Big Cheryl's Son, hints at a personal record. Do the lyrics reflect that?
Yeah. Most of the lyrics come from a personal place. The name comes from my moms. When I was going through those [complications from diabetes] and the kidney transplant, the only people who had my back was my moms, as well as my grandmother who I lost a couple years back and my wife. So that's the space I starting writing from. You know, it's been a rough decade, but we got through. I'm still here and God is good regardless.
Acts like The Roots and Common cite Tribe as the foundation for the whole “conscious rap” thing. Is that sense of positivity something that still influences how you write?
I love those guys, but to be honest, with me and with Tribe, I don't think we ever made a conscious effort to do it like that. It's just how we felt, how we were raised… We don't think about it how you guys think about it. We just worked on the fly, put it down and that's the record.
So positivity comes from that, but it wasn't everything. I mean, shit, I listened to N.W.A. We blast Mobb Deep. We listen to that shit all day… So, we're not talking about guns and that, but I love M.O.P. I love that hard shit. If that's how a man feels and that's what he knows, rock out with that.
I know you and Tip have been up and down in recent years. You seemed to be talking at the [Beats, Rhymes, & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest] premiere. Where do you guys stand now?
Honestly, we still don't really talk that often, but that's how it goes. It's not like if I see [them] there won't be love… It'll be love, but it's not something that happens that often. We just don't cross paths and aren't in a place to make any plans at the moment.
Don't know if you ever look yourself up on Wikipedia, but the photo with your entry is a candid shot of you eating a bag of Funyuns… What's up with that?
[Laughs] I did see that picture as a matter of fact. Yeah, we need to change that shit… But I mean, it's all good though. I do love my Funyons. Don't get me wrong… Rather see me on the mic though.