"We all know that too much of one thing is no good," preaches Malik Taylor, better known as sharp-tongued rapper Phife Dawg. "If you're going to play a lot of Jay-Z, play the same amount of Dead Prez and Talib Kweli and DJ Hi-Tek. If you're going to play a whole bunch of DMX, play the same amount of Redman. That's only right!"
Sure, Phifey. That's the ideal thing to do. But you of all people should know that mainstream radio and BET don't generally work that way.
As one-third of the jazzy hip-hoppers A Tribe Called Quest — along with Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad — Phife Dawg grew accustomed to praises from the streets and lukewarm affection from SoundScan sales charts. Most heads in the Bronx, N.Y., may have owned Tribe's near-perfect Peoples Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, Low End Theory, and Midnight Marauders — but since MTV didn't rotate its videos every 10 minutes, folks in Boise, Idaho, rarely heard the records.
That said, Phife insists that there's enough money and exposure to go around today, it's just that "everybody is just so much into being the same right now." He continues, "I guess it's because of the labels. … Instead of looking for the next best thing, they'd rather duplicate DMX and Jay-Z."
If you detect some frustration in the voice of rap's favorite five-footer, there's a reason: Tribe, one of hip hop's most respected and influential groups ever, went separate ways in 1999. The rumor mill worked overtime speculating why the trio split, but Phife himself will tell you that he hated where the group ventured creatively on its last two projects with Jive Records — Beats, Rhymes, and Life and The Love Movement. With his recent solo onslaught, Ventilation: Da LP, Phife lets the world know where he wanted Tribe to go.
"I think I'm telling it like it is [on the album]," explains the Queens, N.Y., native. "I don't think it's an angry black man vibe, even though you have to deal with a lot of B.S. in this particular business. But it's more the business and how we're being treated. It's really a lesson for everybody. We all need to ventilate at one time or another in our lives. If we keep it bottled in, we will be assed-out eventually."
Nothing is kept bottled in on the album. As a matter of fact, with few production gems available, Phife's witty verbiage almost single-handedly carries the project.
But the rapper says all of the venting is in the past. So, if you're expecting him to call out Q-Tip for making hip-hop jingles or Ali for impersonating Sly Stone with Lucy Pearl, you'll be disappointed. Of course, getting Phife to talk about his next career ("I'm working on a license right now to be a sports agent"), going back to Jive ("They'd have to pay me $30 million"), or his New York Knicks is a totally different story.