THE FUNKY DIABETIC: PHIFE DAWG OF A TRIBE CALLED QUEST by Linda Bruton
We talked to Phife Dawg, a.k.a Mutty Ranks, a.k.a Malik Taylor for a whole 2 hours on a Saturday* afternoon. Phife called an hour early worried that he was late for the interview. He was obviously anxious to talk. He talked about living with diabetes and making music. He reminisced about getting old and on with life, and complained about the current state of Hip Hop. For Phife living with diabetes means, “I just don’t take life for granted.” Not taking life for granted means appreciating some things he may not have when he was younger. Phife Dawg understands that he has slowly but surely matured into Malik Taylor, husband, father and basketball coach. “I don’t feel like I belong in a club any more. I feel off balance in clubs. With my diabetes I can’t drink or smoke. I’d much rather relax and enjoy being with my wife, help my 10 year step son with his homework or play a little b’ball with him. I want to focus on being a parent. Yeah that’s what’s up!”
So while the idea of doin’ new music with his comrades from the Tribe is very appealing, he says, “Man we was only 18-19 when we first got started. We broke up we were still like 28. Now we are 35-36. It’d be real different being in the studio. It would be real interesting to see where Q-Tip is. It would all be on a much higher level. But we are all into to such different stuff from way back then. We’d need at least a solid month to work on something. Trying to get all of us together for that much time . . . I don’t see that happening.” “Me? I want to work on getting my own AAU basketball teams. I want one in Atlanta, maybe Reno or Los Vegas. I also have a little brother in Connecticut, who will be in the 9th grade in the fall. He is so much younger than me it is almost like I’m his father. He’s a gamer. I want to watch him grow as a player. I want to make sure I get to see him play ball as often as possible.” Another reason there may be no time for making new music with the Tribe is because Phife says he wants to focus on his solo career. He said the only thing he really regrets about his life so far, is that he didn’t focus on his solo career sooner. “I was ready right after I moved to Atlanta. It got real bad for me for a while. I really felt like with Midnight Marauders I came into my own. By the time when Beats Rhymes and Life came out I started feelin’ like I didn’t I fit in any more. Q-Tip and Ali had converted to Islam and I didn’t. Music felt like a job; like I was just doin it to pay bills.
I never want my music to feel like just a job. They would schedule studio time at the last minute. I’d catch a plane from Atlanta to be in New York and when I got to the studio, no one would be there. They would have cancelled the session without telling me. Seemed like the management was concerned with other folks not me. But I never lost my confidence.” Phife is very concerned with how music is evolving today. He says, “There is almost a generation gap within Hip-Hop. People don’t honor their craft any more. They don’t sound like they write lyrics. They just will say anything. Some of these southern rappers (Don’t get me wrong. I’m not ever gonna be mad at any black man making money) most of them are doin themselves and are not bitin’, but they are not respecting the craft.”
Whose to blame for this? “I blame the radio stations and the record labels. The radio stations play the same stuff over and over. Too much of one thing is never any good. Radio tells people ‘This is what you are supposed to listen to.’ The music is not teaching the youth anything good. Back in the day, Dee Jays would play everything George Clinton to the O’Jays and people would love it all. Go to a club today and the Dee Jays just don’t have an ear for variety anymore.” I blame the record labels too. Labels instead of looking for the next best thing they only try to replicate what has made them millions before. They’re not looking to progress they are only looking to copy. They keep looking for the next Tribe Called Quest or Mos Def, not something new.” He assured us that, “Even though I am part of a successful Hip-Hop group, I am also a fan of Hip-Hop. I want my stuff to stay true to Hip-Hop. When people come up to me and say, ‘Yo dude you changed my life.’ They say, ‘Yo Phife you need to come out.’ That shit means so much to me. I gotta stay true to my craft.” Staying true to his craft is something that comes naturally for him based upon his upbringing. “My mom had me when she was like 19 and she was in college. She used to take me everywhere. She exposed me to the arts, including poetry, at a very young age. When I was a kid my mom made me write in a journal every day. I hated it then of course, but now I realized that it taught me a lot.”
(*This is an excerpt from an interview which originally appeared on ListD.net in 2006)