Phife Dawg, one-fourth of hip-hop’s A Tribe Called Quest, blames the music industry for the lack of originality and authenticity in today’s rap.
“As for the glory days of hip-hop, everybody had their lane… Nowadays, I blame it on the radio stations and labels. Instead of looking for the next best thing, they’d rather be like, ‘DMX sold 30 million on his first album. Let’s find the next DMX.’ That’s kind of whack ‘cause there’s only one DMX. Let DMX live. Let him shine,” said Phife during a recent screening of the new documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, which debuts in select theaters next month.
Tribe is recognized as one of the genre’s most original and influential groups, and Phife gives credit to a few old and more recent acts that have created and maintained their own individual styles. He named Mos Def and Talib Kweli as two artists who have consistently pushed the envelope. “Same goes for Outkast. Same goes for Kanye,” he said. “There’s only a handful that I can shout out like that.”
Phife, Q-Tip, Jarobi and Ali Shaheed Muhammad comprised A Tribe Called Quest, a group that reached its peak in the ‘90s. Since then, there’s obvious kinship among artists on the same music labels, such as Bad Boy and Young Money; however, there aren’t many groups making hip-hop music anymore.
“We in a recession,” Phife said. “There’s not a lot of rap groups now ‘cause ain’t nobody trying to split the money like that, three ways. I love Q-Tip. I love Ali. I love Jarobi. So, whatever they need… Those are my boys,” said Phife, who discussed how the group formed while the members were still teenagers.
He said that’s not how it seems to go down anymore.
“A lot of times you see shows like, ‘Making the Band,’ no disrespect, but you know and I know they’re just throwing these groups together. There’s a guy from Tennessee joining the group. Then here comes a lady from Mississippi. Then, here comes another brother from Zimbabwe, and they really don’t know each other and it’s eventually going to show in the music. They might have one or two hits to begin with, but that’s going to fade eventually if there’s no love, if there’s no camaraderie,” he explained.
As for the bonds between Phife and his fellow group members, the movie conveys the strained nature of their relationships. However, A Tribe Called Quest was on tour as recently as 2010 and the fellas might be reuniting for another album. They still have one more to go on their contract with Jive Records.
“I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I’m knocking on all types of wood. Me, I can only speak for me. I want to do it for the fans,” he said. “Hopefully, we will do that album for y’all, but you have to understand we can’t just put anything together. It’s been a long time. It has to come from the heart… So, if we do it, please believe, we gonna try to make it the hottest thing on the planet.”
—Tracy L. Scott