Phife Dawg Talks Tribe Called Quest’s Joyous Past and Uncertain Future
Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor was only a teenager when he entered Calliope Studios in New York to record A Tribe Called Quest‘s 1990 debut album People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. He wasn’t officially a member yet — that wouldn’t happen until the group’s next album, The Low End Theory — but his contributions to tracks like “Push It Along” and “Can I Kick It?” helped establish ATCQ as one of hip-hop’s most influential groups.
The plan on People’s was simple. “Me and [Tribe member Jarobi] were supposed to do our own group,” Phife tells Rolling Stone. “A Tribe Called Quest was really [members] Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and they were going to put us out there. I was really a support thing for Tip and Ali.”
Phife would become, of course, an essential part of the group; his helium-high voice and ruffneck rhymes a counterbalance to Q-Tip’s esoteric interests and mellow flow. Despite breaking up multiple times and not releasing an album since 1998’s The Love Movement, ATCQ still steadily receive touring offers to perform in front of hip-hop fans that may love them more than they love each other.
Today, the group will reissue its pivotal debut album, the first in a series of planned reissues over at least the next few years. (A 45s box set of the album ships next month.) But if any rap group is in need of the Some Kind of Monster treatment, it’s A Tribe Called Quest; its history over the past 20 years marked by infighting, breakups, make-ups, mudslinging and reunions — some amicable, some necessary – precipitated mainly by the love/hate relationship between longtime frenemies Phife and Q-Tip.
“I think it is ludicrous that we are not performing together.”
So it’s a bittersweet promotional cycle for Phife, the 44-year-old rapper who must now dwell on a more innocent time of his life while still retaining past (and possibly present) grudges. The group will reunite, briefly, on The Tonight Show Friday night, though there are still no plans to tour or record any new material.
In February, Phife Dawg will drop the Dilla-produced “Nutshell,” the first single off his new EP Give Thanks featuring production by 9th Wonder, Nottz and Phife himself. Later next year, the rapper will release Muttymorphosis, his new LP that functions as “basically my life story.” But for now, the outspoken rapper spoke to Rolling Stone about a joyful past, a tenuous present and an uncertain future with the pioneering group.
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