Death is a natural part of life, unfortunately. Three months and some change into the new year, there isn’t a sadder moment in music than the recent passing of A Tribe Called Quest member Phife Dawg. The 45-year-old died of complications resulting from diabetes, a condition he poked fun of numerous times Over the years, HipHopDX has had several moments to speak with the iconic emcee who played an intricate role in all five A Tribe Called Quest albums from 1990’s People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths Of Rhythms to 1998’s The Love Movement. Current staff writers, past DX editors and contributors like Dana Scott all were honored by conversations alongside the Funky Five Footer. To celebrate his life, we’ve compiled our best moments with Phife in remembrance of one of Hip Hop’s all-time legends.
Phife Dawg: His Name Is Mutty Ranks
By: Paul Arnold
“We discuss it from time to time, because you know Jive [Records], they still want that album. But, Tip was doing his thing, [and] I was dealing with my health issues. I’m [also now] coaching basketball, and recruiting basketball players for a prep school, [South Kent], in Connecticut. And I’m doing the finishing touches to my new album right now as we speak. So we’ve all been busy. Ali’s working on his album… We have a documentary coming out, which is directed by Michael Rapaport, and it’s called Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest. So that should be out soon – not sure exactly when, but it should be out either at the end of the year or at the top of next year. So, we’ve been working that out. We’ve [also] been doing shows from time to time – not often, but every now and then we link up and knock these shows out. So, as far as the new album, I really don’t know what to say about that – if it’s gonna happen, or when it’s gonna happen… That’s still pretty much up in the air.“
“Well my mind is like playing a tug-of-war with that right now – or at least it’s been doing that for the last…at least six years. Like, okay, maybe we just need to leave it alone, ‘cause we waited too long. ‘Cause I’ve seen a lot of [golden era artists] come back and drop albums and [they] went virtually unnoticed. I’m not sure if that would happen to A Tribe Called Quest, but if we keep delaying it, it will. So if we gon’ do it – I think the time is right to do it. We’re blessed at the end of the day, because we broke up in ’98, [and] it’s now what? 2010. And promoters are still offering a good amount of money just to see us [perform] those old albums. So we need to count our blessings, do these shows, and if possible hit the world with a brand new album. At the same time, we’ve all grown as individuals… [And] you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I’m not gonna change overnight, Ali’s not, Jarobi’s not, Q-Tip’s not. So…I don’t know if we should do it, it’s like really confusing. Whatever we do, if we do it, it gotta be the right shit. It gotta be perfect.”
“…Like I said earlier, EPMD put on they crew, Wu-Tang [Clan] had like nine to 10 members [that all released solo albums]…De La Soul, they pretty much introduced Mos Def to the world… Each one teach one, one hand washes the other. Now with all that being said, who the hell has Tribe Called Quest put on? We were supposed to put on Consequence, but he ended up [eventually] getting with Kanye [West], then coming out. Think about it. The only dude we really put on was Jay Dee – rest in peace, J. Dilla. And that was more of a production thing because Q-Tip and Ali were starting their production unit called The Ummah, which in Arabic means “brotherhood.” So it was Q-Tip, it was Ali, it was J. Dilla, [and] it was supposed to be D’Angelo and Raphael Saadiq all in that unit. Look at The Roots, they done put out mad people: Jazzyfatnastees, Jaguar Wright, Jill Scott. C’mon! Who have we put out? Nothing. And then J. Dilla got a lot of his burn with The Roots and The Soulquarians and Erykah Badu. So, ask yourself why is that?”
“Yeah…I remember back in like  Ali had a guest spot on [BET’s The Deal] – you know how they had different deejays… So he was on there deejaying and the guest of the day was Nas. So Nas initially said to Ali, “Yo, y’all need to do a documentary on y’allselves, ‘cause a lot of people love y’all…Y’all broke up awhile back, and the people that don’t understand the history they need to know it…” So Nas initially brought it up… And then a few months later, while we were on the road, on Rock The Bells 2008, Michael Rapaport and Nas, I guess, spoke about it. And then Rapaport is just really gung-ho, he’s a go getter… So he’s directing, [and] Nas is supposed to be executive producing… But Michael Rapaport really took the baton and ran with it and was like, “Yo, we need to really do this.” So he started shooting while we was on Rock The Bells – well at the tail-end of Rock The Bells. So ever since he been shooting. I had to have surgery in September of 2008. He was right there when I was registering to go in – [he filmed] all kind of shit. It should be cool, I’m kinda afraid to watch it but…it should be cool though.”
Phife Dawg Clarifies Comments Made To HipHopDX
By: Paul Arnold
“Well, no… What happened was, when she initially wanted to get tested – My wife is really, really tiny. She’s like a 100 pounds, wet – a really little girl. And at the time I was much bigger than her. So they didn’t think it was gonna work, [and] so she never got tested early on. This is when I was at the hospital in Atlanta [in 2004]… Originally my dad was gonna be my donor, but he had some health issues of his own that he didn’t necessarily know about [previously]. So he couldn’t do it. And then my partna was supposed to do it. And he was cool physically and he was a match, but mentally I think it was fuckin’ with him. And, you know, that’s a normal reaction for someone who’s never been under the knife like that. And me personally, I’m not really built to ask for that, because what if his kids need [a kidney], what if his mom’s needs it. You still gotta think about all of these things. So, he wasn’t able to do it neither. So now I’m running around – [I] gotta restart the search for who’s gonna get tested, who’s gonna be a match…
I started off [in 2004] doing peritoneal dialysis. And that’s when you’re at home [and self-administering the dialysis], and it suited my lifestyle being that I was still going on the road and performing and stuff. I just had to make sure I took my medicine everyday, or whenever I had to. Peritoneal dialysis is when you [have a catheter surgically inserted into your abdomen that then allows for dialysate fluid to flush out your kidneys]. [You] do it yourself, four bags a day, every four hours. So if I start at six a.m. in the morning, my last bag was at six p.m. So it [ended up being] really difficult to leave [my house], because when you leave you gotta worry about getting back on time. So if I do it at six, I gotta be back in the house at 10 a.m. It was crazy.
So, at that point I was getting bloated, because what you gotta do is drain and then refill [and] I was refilling more than I was draining. So I really started to get like kinda bloated… So after awhile I couldn’t really handle it. And to make a long story short, I went to the hospital and they told me I need to set it off with hemodialysis. Now hemodialysis is when you go to the clinic, maybe 3, 4 times a week, and they do it for you. So once I started doing that, like the weekend after Memorial Day ’07, then I started to lose the weight. I started to lose the weight like rapidly… I was going to the clinic like Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. And I was rapidly losing the weight.
So everything’s starting to work itself out, but people weren’t seeing me ‘cause now I’m all the way out in the bay area with wifey and the family. So a lot of people weren’t seeing me. I’d go to the clinic, I’d go home. So [then] Fab 5 Freddy calls to do Vh1 Hip Hop Honors. I didn’t wanna go, ‘cause I knew people would start talking ‘cause I was losing weight. They’ll talk a whole bunch of nonsense [about] what they don’t know, but you can’t really knock ‘em for what they don’t know. So initially I wasn’t gonna go, but Fab 5 Freddy really stuck his neck out for me to make sure I was comfortable… And we’ve never really been honored like that, so I was like, “Aight, fuck it, I’ll go.” Big mistake. I went, then Wendy Williams ripped me to shreds, whoever else was talking nonsense ripped me to shreds because I [had] really kept everything on the low. I started taking this medicine back in ’04, now mind you this is ’07 when I went to the Hip Hop Honors, so for three good years I kept everything on the low. A couple of people knew, but it wasn’t on blast until they actually saw it. And that’s why I say it was a big mistake. I should’ve just parlayed.”
2015 Red Bull BC One North American Championship
Date: 8/26/2015 & 9/8/2015
By: Ural Garrett
“If you have a ghostwriter, you can’t claim king. You’re just an extra spitting verses if you have a ghostwriter and there’s nothing wrong with that. But keep it 100, own your truth.”
“I always say life is a cycle and it’ll get back to who we were in Hip Hop whether it’s the DJ’s or B-Boys, the emcee, the graffiti artists and the whole nine. It’s going to get back. Events like this are taking place and I hope it gets bigger and bigger than it use to be or what it is right now. I’m elated about that matter of fact.”
Phife Dawg Reveals Q-Tip Writing “People’s Instinctive Travels..” & The Unintentional Formation Of Tribe
By: Dana Scott
“It’s actually difficult for me to talk about that first album, being that I really had zero to do with it! I was hardly around. Q-Tip wrote all the lyrics, his and mine. Not that I couldn’t write, but I wasn’t an official member of the group then. I was working on my own stuff and one or two cameo’s with ATCQ was gonna set me up to do solo as well as form a duo with Jarobi! Basically, on that first album for me was in the same way that you found out about Q-Tip via The Jungle Brothers. You know what I mean? That was the start of all of that. And the same way he was discovered by Jungle—by going to the same highschool as them. DJ Red Alert was Mike G (of the Jungle Brothers) uncle, and all of that. It was about being in the right place at the right time. I mean, I knew Q-Tip since we were kids, and basically he was going to put me out the same way. So basically, one hand washes the other. We were thinking what Wu-Tang set out and did. So it was supposed to be like that but as they say, the rest is history. I ended up signing on as an official member of the group right before The Low End Theory was recorded. That’s how I remained a member of A Tribe Called Quest.”
“I would say that The Low End Theory was my coming out party for myself because on the debut I appeared on four out of fifteen songs. On Midnight Marauders, you really saw what the group can be when you’re on the same page for both of those second and third albums.”
“I didn’t go to college, but I would have gone back to school for journalism, communications and for sports broadcasting. I wanted to have gone to Syracuse or North Carolina. Either one. I probably would have gone to one of those schools or a historically black school like Howard or Clark in Atlanta or something like that. Brent Musberger was one of my idols growing up.”
“I would have liked Mark Jackson to come back home to coach the Knicks. Naturally, he is my favorite Knick ever besides Bernard King. But I knew he wasn’t coming because I know he wasn’t one of Phil’s guys. Once (Golden State Warriors coach) Steve Kerr turned down the job, I knew he was going to get Derek Fisher to try and come. So I knew for a fact that Mark Jackson wasn’t gonna come because Phil Jackson wanted one of his peoples in there. But I definitely would have preferred Mark Jackson. Not that I don’t believe in Derek Fisher. I still believe in their system, and we’ll see what happens down in the offseason. But this was a hard pill to swallow seeing what went on this season. I’ll tell you that much.”