Zoo Labs talks with Phife

In 2012, Zoo Labs sat down with Malik Taylor, A Tribe Called Quest's Phife Dawg, to catch up about life and his plans for his upcoming solo album.  The entire Zoo Labs family is deeply saddened by today's news of his passing.  

Below is Part 1 of our discussion.

Zoo Labs:

I’m a really big fan of yours, but I know less about what you are doing now. I was wondering if you could start just by telling us a little bit about what you are up to right now.

Phife:     

Basically I’m working on a solo album. I think I’ve recorded at least four songs. Dave mixed about two or three songs. I didn’t know about this studio until my homeboy Bob told me about it and when I came over here I was like “Why didn’t anyone tell me about this?” All my life, my family lived like a couple of blocks down and I had no idea this was over here.

I’m working on a new album, and I’m working on a sport show for TV cause I’m a big sport fanatic. I might even love that more than music to be honest. I’ve been in the music business for twenty-seven years, and I’ve always wanted to do something different to try and get away. They always say the grass is greener on the other side.

I lost a lot of time dealing with health issues and I’m trying to make that up. Sometimes I feel like I can’t compete with what’s out there because it’s like people are so active.

But some of the stuff -- you can’t everything seriously, you are just enjoying yourself or whatever -- but there are things you are like “enough is enough”. The thing that irks me the most these days  is the binding.  You know what I mean?  Binding, copying, and not being original.

 I have a problem with that because coming up, back then it was like against the law, so to speak. You will get punched in the face or at least approached for it, but nowadays it’s cool. Everybody embraces binding nowadays. I still can’t get that. I guess I’m a little too old school.

Another reason why I think I’m old school compared to now is like the internet has taken over so much, it’s like people can buy albums on iTunes, which is cool, but I’m not the type to do it. Before I’m an artist, I’m a fan. I’m a fan of Jay Z, I’m a fan of Mob Deep. I can go on for days. I’m a fan of Young Jeezy, Kanye and all that.  But I want to go to Best Buy or whatever record store and buy the album for the fact that I still love packaging.

I still love reading credit’s even though you could do that online as well, but it’s not as fun for me. I treat albums coming out like video games. I want to go the store and cut that like “what’s the hot one?” -- like madness is about to come out.  Like an album that came out, I couldn’t wait to go get that. I didn’t want to go online, and when I did I didn’t even know he had a limited edition version. If I didn’t go out and get it I wouldn’t have known that. So I went out and got it.  The Frank Ocean album is out? Boom. Go home with two albums and I’m happy. But so many people are lazy nowadays and I can’t get with that, even though a lot of internet stuff is helpful. But, as far as buying albums and being a fan, I won’t allow them to take away my joy. That’s how I feel.

Zoo Labs:         

Where did you go to buy that album?

Phife:

I went to Rasputin’s because I was right around the block getting some lunch and I thought “oh today is Tuesday, two minutes away why not get that album?” I usually go to Rasputin’s or Best Buy to get my video games or get my albums, DVD’s, blue ray and stuff like that.

Zoo Labs:     

Tell us a little bit more about the project that you are working on now, where you are at in that project and what are the steps that you have taken so far. What do you anticipate in order to get it done?

Phife:     

What happened was I received a kidney transplant in 2008 and during the process of waiting -- I was waiting from 2004 to 2008 -- and through the whole process people were asking me am I doing music. And I just wasn’t in this spirit.

Tupac said when he went to jail that his spirit was broken by being in there, so he didn’t write that much. It wasn’t until he got out got on his game again.  Same thing with me during that whole process my spirit was kind of broken, so I really wasn’t dealing with music, I was hardly watching sports like I love. I was just broke like that.

Once I got the transplant, I still said to myself I’m not going to run anymore unless it’s a Tribe album. I’ll produce alongside different artists -- because I had a couple of artists that wanted to work with me -- but I was sick so I couldn’t get around to it. Once I had the transplant, I started working with different artists, then I took the trip back to my home base New York and it came back. Just being in New York, my old manager from tribe asked me to go record for him because he was working on a compilation. I knew he was hot,  got on the blackberry and next thing I knew I had come back home.  I just started writing and that is how the album started.

Right now what I’ve got about fifteen songs and then I’ll probably drop a limited edition with twenty songs, bonus cuts. Right now I’m just mixing and mastering and putting the album cover together and that’s it.

Zoo Labs:     

What about with the new internet stuff and new ways of releasing. Have you been feeling about that and how have you been working with that?

Phife:     

Honestly I haven’t planned on going that route, but I’ll let my manager handle most of that because he is a whiz kid when it comes to computers and everything online. The only time I’m online is Facebook, and maybe Twitter once in a while. I’m about to start my Instagram account, and sending emails -- I’m pretty good at that. That’s really my computer experience. I only deal with it that much, so I’ll let him handle most of that. We are going to put this out on iTunes and all of that.

Zoo Labs:     

What are you hoping for your album once it’s released? What does it mean to you for people to listen to and like your solo album?

Phife:     

Back in the day it was like drop your album and hope you go platinum. These days the industry is so crazy, you just want to put good music out and hit the road, because that is where the real money is coming from -- unless you are a producer or you have a BMI publishing check, things of that nature, that’s cool. But as a straight up artist such as myself, I produce it well but I’m not known as a producer as yet. So as an artist -- as an MC -- I just want to put good music out, hit the road and hopefully they will enjoy it. I think they will enjoy it but I’m not really stressing going platinum, going double platinum, things of that nature because if you really put your eggs in one basket you might be disappointed.

The industry is very fickle, especially Hip-Hop. If you look at country music, like Randy Travis and Goth Brookes, and Jazz and things of that nature, they could sing about the same things every album they put out and they are guaranteed to sell for a million. They just have that following like that. In R&B, Beyonce could put whatever out, she’s going to blow, she’s just that dope. The name speaks volumes. But for Hip-Hop, there is only a handful of people that are going to sell records at the gate like that. Jay-Z is one, Eminem is one, and Nelly is another. Everybody else is kind of like “okay what’s going to happen?” Nas he deserves to be double platinum with this album he just put out. I listen to it every day and every day I find something new I like about it. If all people are feeling the way I’m feeling about that album, he should go double platinum, if not more. But like I said the game in Hip-Hop is so fickle, he could just go platinum -- and if that’s the case I’m going to be disappointed. As long as he is happy with it, I’m cool with it, but as an artist, as a fan, I’m like “come on man I’m hearing all these sounds that should be selling you beaucoup records. This is the hottest hip-hop album in the last twenty four maybe five years.”

Zoo Labs:         

Why do you think it’s fickle like that?

Phife:     

Good question. As far as Hip-Hop, there is just a lot of bunch of stuff that happens. A lot of people like to support their own, so it’s like “I know his sister’s baby mama and I could get that for free” or they’ll download it for free. And a lot of trashy albums come out, so people don’t really trust twelve songs to be twelve -- a lot of times it’s four of twelve. Singles be heard but albums don’t sell.  A lot of people are kind of scared to go out there right now. You have social networks like Facebook and Twitter and all these other ways to say “yo get that Nas album dude is killing it”. And so hopefully that will help the industry, but that still is not a guarantee because everybody is stuck in their ways. I’ve already seen people on Twitter say “this album is better than Nas’s album” and I’m looking at them like “oh no, what are you listening to?”. It’s still not a guarantee.

Zoo Labs:     

What does success for you mean? For your next album or what it means for you?

Phife:    

Feeding my family. I also lost my grandmother like two Sunday’s ago. The sad thing about it we were both sick at the same time.  I’m here and she was in New York with my mom I couldn’t do what I wanted to do, although I did send money to help out. That’s not enough for me because my grandmother was, like for real, my best friend; life coach, mentor all of that. She knew I’m sick, so she is busy worrying about me and I’m busy worrying about her, and I got my mom making sure I’m ok.  She saw that I got the transplant so I think she was glad I was good, but soon after that she passed. What I took from that was: whatever I do, it has to be for my wife and my son, my moms, my family. Period and point blank. Whatever I could do, I have to do, and it’s not just the money thing. My mom, she is getting old, she is at the stage where she just wants to see my face and that’s how I kept my father, my brother all of that. That’s success for me. I’m not worried about going platinum and all of that, I just want to go on a roll, bombard the stage, do what I’ve got to do come back home, what do you need. I just do the best album I could possibly do. That’s success to me.

Zoo Labs:         

What message do you want to send to your fans? What’s the message now?

Phife:     

That’s a very good question. Don’t take everything so seriously. Other people watch videos and they see the expensive jewelry and the cars and they really go out of their way to get that no matter what it takes. I think that’s sad. It’s just a video, it may just be for the song probably. They had to have the Bentley in it, they had to have the Maserati. But it’s not for everybody, especially in the recession for the last couple of years. It’s all about living comfortable, the most comfortable. I love the Maserati. I love the Bentley. But what’s most important? I‘d rather have land. That’s just me though. I’d rather have a couple of houses rent out, sell, have mine. I’m about to get a new car right now but it’s not that big of a deal for me. Do I want to pay a million bucks to get my favorite car?  But being that I have bills, mortgages here in Atlanta and New York, I’m going to settle for the Audi A7 or something like that. I’m cool with that, I’m comfortable.

Everybody, my message is don’t take this stuff so serious. Enjoy whatever music you like listening to, whether it’s mine, whether it’s a group, whether it’s this rapper or that rapper, this artist, that artist. Don’t take us so serious, just enjoy it.

I go back to the days, and they all had messages in their music. But the one thing I don’t want to do is preach and beat people over their heads. That’s not what I want to do as an artist. If you look at track for a quest of music we weren’t too preachy we gave you an option, but we’d name the record Steve Biko and people would be like “who is Steve Biko”? Exactly! They will find out. We would say “think about Steve Biko”, but other than his name in the actual record, the general thing is the music. “How did you loop this” and “how did you produce this” and “where did you get those snares” and “where did you get those drums”?

They entered the music like nothing else. So it’s like it “who was Steve Biko?” Go to a library, figure that out.  You know who MLK is, you know who Malcolm X is, and oh, check out Steve Biko. A lot of people in America love to be spoon fed. Tribe was never the type of group to spoon feed, and that was one of the biggest things that I took from A Tribe Called Quest. I didn’t want my music to spoon feed a newborn.

[To Be Continued in Part 2]