I met Jarobi White of A Tribe Called Quest when I went to see Head-Roc (a D.C. rapper Jarobi managed for a few years) perform and then booked Heady on a few bills at Georgetown University. In my experience, Jarobi has always been friendly and astonishingly down-to-earth. It was kind of him to do the following interview, which formed the basis of brief articles in Express, the Hoya and On Tap Magazine. Jarobi, his wife Mimi and his newborn son graciously “kicked it” with me for about three hours in the spring of ’05.
A Tribe Called Quest had a few massive hit songs in the ’90s, including “Can I Kick It?,” “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo,” “Scenario,” and “Award Tour.” Like their friends in De La Soul, the members of Tribe are considered hip-hop innovators for being among the first rap groups to use jazz effectively and for their impressive array of lyrical topics. Both groups were known as part of the Afrocentric “Native Tongues” hip-hop movement.
My college friend Chad Bilyeu “kicks it” off in this interview. His questions are in bold. Mine are in italics.
Chad B.: I love them first three albums. How did ya’ll meet?
Jarobi: Well, how many words does your article have?
Tim: 200, so not that many.
Some of this is to satisfy my own curiosity, if that’s cool with you.
It’s all good. Well, Q-Tip and Phife, their families went to the same church, so they’ve actually been in contact with each other since like 2 or 3 years old – it was a family thing.
I moved into the neighborhood when I was about 12.
Where’d you move from?
The Bronx. I was born in the South Bronx, then I moved to Co-Op City, then to Cross Street, then to Queens. Phife lived around the corner from me. We started hanging out, through our interests in video games, basketball, stuff like that.
So then he was like, “Yo, you gotta meet my homeboy,” and that was Tip. We started playing basketball with him or whatever.
Around the age of 13 it was like, “Yo man, let’s make a rap group up together,” because Phife always used to rhyme. His mom was a poet, so he was always good with words.
I used to do the beat-box. We had our little group and we’d do talent shows and stuff like that. When I started going to high school, me and Tip used to take the train, so we became a little closer doing that.
Met Ali in high school and we started recording. That was the joint. When I was about 13 years old, that’s when we made our first demo.
So from your first demo to when ya’ll put out “People’s Instinctive,” what was the time-frame between those two?
About 4 years.
So when ya’ll came out, ya’ll was like 18 years old.
I was 17.
In the “El Segundo” video, you were 17?
I was freshly 18. We did that in Vegas and I couldn’t go to no casinos or nothing ’cause I was too young.
One thing I always wondered – I’m sure you get asked this so many times and I’m sorry –who was making beats, what equipment did you use, how did that dynamic happen?
I’ve never been asked that before. Tip was schooled by Large Professor – I don’t know if you know anything about early ’90s hip-hop – there was like 3 people who were the masters of SP12: Him, Pete Rock and Premier.
Being that we lived in Queens, we were close to Large Professor – he taught everybody how to use that joint.
He taught everybody. Didn’t he learn from Paul C?
OK, I didn’t want to take it back that far, ’cause a lot of people don’t know who Paul C is.
Yeah, I kinda know.
Paul C is the architect. He doesn’t even get enough credit in hip-hop circles, because he didn’t directly teach a lot of people, but he taught all the people who taught all the people. He did stuff with Ultramagnetic way back in the day…
Tip had more knowledge of the machines. Me and him had the different musical tastes. He was always on the machines when we would be in Malik’s basement, picking out records and stuff.
We used the SP12, the S950 Akai joints, the Roland keyboard joints, and that’s basically what we were using.
Ya’ll used the SP12, so you was working with 5 seconds a sample?
5 seconds? Try 1.5 seconds.
Oh, ya’ll didn’t even have the turbo?
Oh no! When you wanted to play a loop, you had to chop the loops up.
So ya’ll was chopping all that up? On the first album, y’all made that on SP12s?
Well, we used that mostly for the drumbeats. We used Akai S950 – you remember those?
Yeah, I remember that – that’s cool.
Yeah, you can get 10 seconds on that joint, maybe, if you know what you’re doing. That was mostly what we were using.
I always respected Native Tongues ’cause it was a positive vibe. What were your feelings on the whole gangsta, N.W.A., West Coast thing, and what made ya’ll not fall into that?
Because we wasn’t living that lifestyle, but we used to listen to that. I thought that was the shit.
Ali’s uncle used to work at CBS. He brought us Eazy-E’s album in 1988 and we was like, “Oh my God!”
Ya know, “Dope Man” and “We Want Eazy” and all that stuff on there.
We was like “Oh my goodness. This is bananas.”
We thought that was the shit, but that’s not how we was living.
So you had to be yourselves.
That’s what I always liked. I come from the ‘burbs – Cleveland Heights in Cleveland, Ohio – and I listened to everything. We was kinda well-rounded, being from Cleveland. We listened to New York – we also listened to West Coast. It seems like a lot of times people be like, “I can only listen to West Coast.”
It doesn’t make any sense.
Ya’ll was listening to whatever, respecting whatever.
Everything. I can’t say all of New York was like that, ’cause it wasn’t.
No, it wasn’t. I got family up there and they wasn’t trying to hear it.
We were different in that respect, because we just loved music, we grew up on music. My parents listened to everything from Chicago to the Beatles to jazz. Everything.
Since hip-hop is such sample-based music, you should listen to everything else.
Well, the people that are good at it, you can tell.
Right. Everybody knew your presence on the first album, cause ya’ll was in the videos and whatnot. The second, which I thought was the dopest album – no disrespect – what was your influence on that one?
The first three albums I was in the studio, doing production and stuff like that. The fourth album, my influence kinda slacked off a little bit. The fifth, I came in at the tale end, during the mixing process, but I didn’t have too much to do with the recording of it.
Now why were you never up in the front? That just ain’t how you were?
You just laid back?
Tim will tell you that. Even now. I’m chillin’. I wanna be regular, I wanna be able to do stuff.
So you do get royalties from them old albums and everything?
Um, there’s not really much to be had anymore.
Really? Ya’ll had your day?
We kinda did, we kinda did (laughs).
Ya’ll did it very well though. Did ya’ll go gold? Did ya’ll get platinum ever?
Really? Ya’ll was platinum every album?
The fourth one didn’t go platinum, but it was like 800 [thousand] or something. The first one went platinum after the fact.
Yeah. The second and third went platinum.
So how was the other Native Tongues? Were De La and them cool too?
Hell yeah. They was our peoples – to this day. Dave live in Maryland. I spoke to him the other day to tell him I had the kid. I saw Pos Wednesday when I was in New York.
They new album is good.
Their album is banging.
Yeah, cause I wasn’t really feeling the A.O.I. as much. Their new album is off the chain.
They hit their stride.
What about the homie Chi-Ali, man? (to Tim): What did I tell you? I knew he’d make a face or something.
Not to be disrespectful, but during those days it was cool to be a Native Tongue, you know what I’m saying? I don’t consider that dude a Native Tongue.
He was Baby Chris’ little homeboy from the Bronx. He tried to put him down with us, ‘cause Baby Chris was our road manager in those days, so, he got on like that, but he wasn’t really down with us.
When he was doing albums, I never would have predicted that this dude was gonna be [killing someone over $300].
He was a little boy when I met him. He was like 13 or 14 when he was making those records.
Do you know KRS-One?
Very well. We were label-mates. Our first show outside of New York was with him: Compton, California in ’88, ’89, and it was banging, crazy. They was gang-bangin’ crazy dude.
’89 in Compton? Dude: It was crazy.
Coming from New York, I had never seen no shit like that before in my life. It was crazy.
They gang-banging in New York now.
I don’t wanna talk about it.
Jim Jones and all them.
They Bloods. It doesn’t make no sense to me.
I got family in Brooklyn. I’d come out as a kid, get tapes and whatnot, get the flavor and take ‘em back to Cleveland. I’d be a little ahead of the times, but I never heard about that.
Let’s talk about KRS-One.
I love KRS-One. Kris was the Teacher. Between him and Public Enemy, they showed you the model, if you wanted to be a conscious MC, of how to do it.
The first thing you have to do is go to the streets.
KRS-One’s first album, “Criminal Minded,” was way before a lot of people started talking about guns and stuff like that.
Public Enemy’s first album, “Yo! Bum Rush the Show,” was similar, but not as hardcore as KRS-One.
Shit, KRS-One had “Listen to My 9 Millimeter Go Bang” on the first album.
I love Kris because he showed that as an artist you grow – as a person you grow.
He showed people that it’s OK to grow and change and be different. I’ll always love him and I’ll always have a lot of respect for him.
Did you go to his lecture at UDC last year?
Yeah, we went to that.
How was that?
Dope. If you’re a common-sense type of person, if you’re a forward-thinking person, it made a lot of sense, but to a lot of people a lot of his ideas are new. He’s still doing it.
I read his book.
The new one, “Ruminations.”
I haven’t read that. How was it?
It’s good. Smart.
Totally eloquent guy.
And he can rock concerts sick.
He is one of the best. It’s like, “Damn, KRS on? I don’t wanna go on after him.”
Especially in the early ’90s, he had hits upon hits. He could go up there and bang out 10 singles that everybody knew the words to. It’s like, “I can’t do nothing after him.”
You said that the show in Compton in ’88 was crazy, but can you elaborate on that?
Oh, it was gang-banging. I had no understanding of it. I’d heard a little about Bloods and Crips and all that, but I didn’t know it was to that extent.
The cops were making a concerted effort to keep these dudes from hurting each other. They had the whole ball-field split in the middle: Dudes in red and brown on this side and dudes in blue and grey on this side. Dudes was in the audience doing their gangs signs, and cops would be like, “Stop it! You! Stop it!”
I don’t know what the hell they doing, you know? That was crazy.
We played all the hard places when we went to L.A. The second place we played at was this club called “Water the Bush.” And it was Ice-T’s club. So you can imagine another real hard-ass place.
You remember what we used to look like back in ’89, dude?
Ya’ll had the little baby dreads and [Afrocentric garb and etc.]
Yeah, so we going with gangsters, dude. Straight gangsters.
They was cool to ya’ll, though? They showed ya’ll love?
Look at us, dude. They were like, “This is crazy. You gotta give them respect.”
Plus we was in Zulu Nation and Ice-T’s a high-ranking person in Zulu Nation.
Yeah, what’s up with Zulu Nation, exactly? Afrika Bambaataa the head, right?
He’s responsible for hip-hop as a culture, as a movement.
We had gangs and stuff back in the ’70s in New York, and he was like, “Yo, we need to stop killing each other, and let’s do something useful with all this energy and creativity we have.”
So he took the biggest gangs back in the day and formed the Zulu Nation and made it as an organization for black people to learn about themselves and to teach other people about themselves.
Rapping, break-dancing, graffiti – he knew that all these people who were doing that stuff were coming together anyway, so he was just trying to add a little substance instead of killing each other.
Zulu Nation still in effect nowadays? Cause I don’t be hearing about it as much.
It’s world-wide, baby – world-wide.
Absolutely. Look on the internet. I guarantee you’ll be blown away.
On the world-wide aspect, I’m sure ya’ll perform everywhere…I went to Amsterdam not too long ago and I’m over there – I went over there with my girl at the time, and she wanted to dance. I be like, “They don’t be playing stuff that moves me.”
The new stuff’s OK: I’m not gonna say it’s bad, but it’s one-faceted. Musically, I think you got people pushing the envelope, but MCs is very one-faceted, there ain’t too many who bring it.
And when I’m over in Amsterdam, they still be playing ya’ll on the radio.
I was in high school back in ’92, ’93, so at the prom they played your stuff. So that’s the music of my childhood – that’s what gets me hyped.
They don’t play it over here anymore, but they play it over there – why do you think they’ve got such a respect for hip-hop like that?
I think in Europe they like the more authentic of every music genre – they don’t really go for the pop shit too much. They listening to Miles and Thelonious over there. Those are the people who are big over there. They like the real shit: people who are true to their art. That’s been my experience.
Ya’ll in DC now, home of go-go. You like go-go?
Absolutely. If you listen to it and give it a chance you can’t deny it.
It’s straight African drums.
Plain and simple. It’s almost animalistic.
When I first heard it, I was just like, “What is it? This is too weird.”
It sort of takes you a minute. But you see, think about this: They played go-go in New York before they played rap music.
Listen to Doug E. Fresh. That’s all go-go music. Salt ‘n Peppa, Kid ‘n Play, that’s all go-go. Kurtis Blow, first couple joints, that’s go-go.
You’re right! So out here, it’s really no hip-hop scene.
I beg to differ.
He won’t listen to Head-Roc.
I didn’t say I wouldn’t listen to him.
Well, you haven’t. I gave you the CD.
Did you give me the CD? I didn’t crack it open. I’m sorry, man – don’t take offense to that.
I won’t, because if you don’t hear it you’ll never know. I’ve yet to give that album to somebody who hasn’t called me back and been like, “dude is bananas.”
No doubt. He doing it, but I’m saying, there’s just no synonymous D.C. name yet.
Because D.C. eats its babies.
The only real MC that was from D.C. that made some noise was Nonchalant back in the day.
Oh yeah, I like her. You’re a native New Yorker. D.C.’s a little slower, ain’t it?
That’s why I like it.
It seem like everybody be moving out of New York.
There could be a reason for that.
You guys get tired of it?
New York is a police-state, dude. If you have any kind of political mind, you ain’t gonna be in New York. It’s very oppressive, very racist: systematically racist.
You would think New York is like the freest place in the world, right?
I would think that.
It’s not like overt shit, like “Nigger, get the fuck out of here,” but it’s systematic shit, dude.
Hell yeah. The neighborhoods is broke down like that, you know what I mean?
They have little enclaves of everybody. You have Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge, which is the white neighborhood. You’ve got Fort Greene, which is being re-gentrified like all of D.C. is.
Sheepshead Bay is Jews and Italians.
Funny enough, Africa grew up in Bay Ridge – from the Jungle Brothers.
What’s up with those dudes nowadays? They still do stuff? They old, ain’t they? Ain’t they about 52 years old?
Then I’m 51.
(laughs hard) No you ain’t, man. Be quiet, man. You’re not 51 years old.
Well, Tip went to high school with Africa. That’s how we got on.
Africa, The Jungle Brothers – the first time Tip was on a record was on a song they did called “Black is Black.”
Mike Gee, from the Jungle Brothers, his uncle was Red Alert, and that’s how they got their deal and that’s how we got our deal.
We didn’t go through that demo process.
So ya’ll was really in the right place at the right time, too. But it didn’t hurt that ya’ll was actually good, too.
No, it didn’t.
Dude, no, that’s not even true. I’m gonna stop lying. We put out a demo that had “Pubic Enemy,” “Bonita Applebum,” and a couple of other songs. And the record companies heard them songs and they was like “That shit is wack!”
They didn’t like “Bonita Applebum”?
No. I was 16 when we did that and they were like, “That shit is garbage!”
I put that on when I first, you know, romanced, man. I was on the anti-R&B, so I’m like, “Imma put on some smooth rap.” That’s real, man. I wasn’t about to put on no Guy.
I like Guy.
I was just – Teddy Riley, he tight – you know, when you young, you’re anti.
Teddy Riley is responsible for some of the biggest rap songs you ever heard in your life, dog. He did all of Kool Moe Dee’s shit back in the day, “Go See the Doctor,” and “Rap’s New Generation.” He did a lot of stuff that was on Jive, too. He like was a big hip-hop dude.
Oh, I wasn’t down with all this linkage. That’s real tight. Now these new dudes – other than your man Head-Roc, how do you feel about the state of hip-hop? I know that’s such a generic question.
Well, it is a generic question, but when people ask, I understand: It’s fucked up.
Do you think the money just ruined it?
Well, the way that the record companies work, there’s a formula for everything. A, B and C equals D – and that’s what happened to hip-hop.
Just cookie-cutter formula, right?
Right. And the way it’s being marketed to 14-year-old girls.
I’ve said that to people before! They be like “why don’t you buy this?” And I say, “’cause I feel that it’s marketed to middle school girls, what they be talking about,” because they’re the most apt to actually go out and buy a CD.
Yeah, cause they have disposable income. You get an allowance. If you live in the suburbs you get a pretty nice allowance. Buy an album with that.
How do you feel about the homies Dead Prez?
They’re hot. Heady’s in that same vein, but Heady’s a little more accessible. He’s more inclusive.
Yeah, cause they definitely on some smack the white boy, kill your landlord.
Kill my landlord. C. I. L. L. my landlord. (laughs). Yeah, they on some kill my landlord shit, but they tight. They tight, but you gotta be more accessible.
Saying that: White people buy more hip-hop than black people, so is that part of the formula? Maybe not the music that you make or produce, but do you think it’s more of a minstrel show now and it’s all for white people?
No, what’s happened is there’s no more rock ‘n roll. Rock ‘n roll’s going through the same shit.
There’s no other form of music that has the angst that hip-hop has, and that’s why all the white kids like hip-hop.
Hip-hop is angry, violent: “I’m gonna kill a motherfucker.”
Rock music used to have that same energy without necessarily having to say it.
Hip-hop’s the only thing that has that energy. What’s good rock music now?
I listen to some dudes like Interpole, Mars Volta, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
I like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs are alright, but it doesn’t have the same energy, and hip-hop’s the only thing that does.
If you want to rebel, sag your pants and wear your hat backwards. That’ll fuck your parents up if you’re you’re a white kid in middle America.
Do you think rock ‘n’ roll’s too cookie-cutter as well?
Yeah, rock ‘n roll’s the same way, dude, and when they started trying to style people – I think that’s the same problem with both rap and rock, when they start trying to fucking style people – that’s when everything’s lost.
You gotta come with your own shit.
So how do you feel about white rappers?
I don’t give a fuck as long as you’re good. MC Serch was a beast. The Beastie Boys.
Do you know them pretty well?
Yeah, we’re big fans of theirs and they’re big fans of ours. It’s mutual respect.
You did the Tibetan Freedom shows, right?
Yeah, we did them twice and went on their “Hello Nasty” tour.
Did ya’ll do Lollapalooza?
Yeah in ’94, ’96, I think there’s another one, I think we did it three times – no it’s twice, I’m thinking about Smokin’ Grooves.
What’s your favorite audience to perform for – where do you expect to get the most love?
9:30 Club or the House of Blues. The 9:30 Club is one of the top three most supportive venues on the planet.
Absofuckinglutely. 1500 people, mixed crowd, 20-30 years old. I like to have a mix between people who know every word to every song and young kids who don’t really know, but they big brother or they cousin told them about the shit and they want to hear it for themselves. That’s the crowd I like: In-between, a nice little cross-section.
How you feel about the rappers with tennis shoes and whatnot?
It’s dope. Get your money. I personally would not do it, but I’m not knocking nobody’s hustle: Get it. As long as you doing the right thing with it and employing people and providing opportunities for other people and stuff like that, I think it’s dope.
You can’t knock ‘em for being entrepreneurial.
No, he’s providing a model, which I think is dope.
I guess it’s good that people finally getting paid properly off it. I was watching this thing about rapper’s contracts on MTV and I think Q-Tip was on it.
Oh, yeah he had to be.
He was explaining how ya’ll made the money.
Nobody got jerked more than us and TLC.
When he broke it down, I was just like “Oh, shit.”
Off the first one, at the end of the day – not to be all over your pocket – ya’ll had $80,000 to split between 4 people after all of that?
I went to cooking school.
For real? So you a chef right now?
Yeah. After that bullshit I knew I had to do something where I had something to fall back on.
So you made most of your money off of your shows?
All of it, all the money we made was off shows.
So these young bucks coming up – what would you tell them?
Go to school and leave that rap shit alone. Become a lawyer, because imma need a lawyer. My little boy gonna need a doctor. Firemen – I’m being dead fucking serious.
Why are you gonna need a lawyer?
Because somebody’s gonna say the wrong thing at some point and imma slap ‘em.
Where do you work?
Me and Phife do shows.
You’re not working as a chef right now?
No, it’s not cool. It’s just what it is right now. I’m in transition.
I would think it’d be cool not to have a day job and just do shows.
Well, I don’t think of being a chef as a day job. I love doing that shit – it wouldn’t be no thing to me. I worked in a restaurant from like ’95-’98, and that shit was lovely to me.
What’s your cuisines that you cook?
I can cook anything, but if I had my own restaurant it would be like a fusion thing, like an Asian-American fusion thing.
That’s real tight. That’s wild. So the record company really was taking initiative to dick you?
I think that’s just the nature of the beast and we just got caught up in it.
We didn’t have good enough representation. Red Alert was our initial manager. That’s who we signed our first record company contract with. He didn’t know shit. And we didn’t know shit.
So who got paid back in the day, properly? Ice T?
No. He was doing other things to get his money. Nobody got paid back in our day.
Run DMC, maybe, cause his brother was looking out for them. LL maybe.
So you sold a million records and made $80,000?
On the first album, at that point, we had probably sold about 800,000 records.
What’s that, 10 cents a record?
That’s how much they paid you though, right?
You made like a quarter a record?
Mmmhmm. If you’re a superstar you might get a dollar. Or if you’re like a producer, writer, you know what I’m saying? Which we were, but we weren’t set up properly.
The money’s in the live shows.
Even back then it was like that too?
We wasn’t getting shit for live shows either, not compared to what we get now to do these damn shows.
It seems like the independent scene nowadays has come up a lot. I’m sure you like that.
Yeah, cause you can control a majority of your money.
They get paid more per unit too, right?
Chad Bilyeu: They cut out a lot of middle-men. You like any of these new underground dudes that’s out?
Jarobi White: I’m not really familiar, dude, I can’t even lie. If you told me a couple people I’d probably be like “Yeah, yeah.”
Do you listen to any contemporary hip-hop?
Jarobi: No, I don’t really seek it out. If I’m tooting the radio station and I hear something that’s hot, I’m like, “Oh, yeah!”
You know I’m gonna check Common Sense; I’m gonna check the new De La album. I might check for Kayne. You know I’m gonna check for Outkast.
Chad B: You remember the East Coast, West Coast thang? Ya’ll had nothing to do with that.
J: Yeah, we did.
For real? What was going on?
We wasn’t about it, but we had serious beef with Ice Cub. What’s his little crew’s name?
Yeah we had beef with them dudes. [Jarobi turns tape off, tells story]
…There’s nothing left to sample, dude. You gotta manipulate the shit. You can’t just straight up sample something – that’s corny anyway.
You don’t really get down with all the synth-produced rap that’s going on?
Dude, if it’s good it’s good.
Yeah, Neptunes is pretty good I’d say. Dre’s good.
Yeah, Dre’s the shit. The rumor is – the RUMOR is – that he hasn’t really touched a beat in years.
I heard that too. I heard the mailman is making all the beats.
I don’t know how true that is.
So do you think you’re going to put out another Tribe record?
Dude, I’m trying my damnedest, and if it happens: Thank me. Thank Jarobi. Let everybody know that I did it. Trust me. That’s all I’m gonna say about that (laughs). But yeah, it’s gonna happen.
That’s what need to happen, man. When was the last show you guys did?
Where was that?
How’d that go?
It was a Tribe show, dude, you know what I’m saying? It was tight.
Funny thing was, though, was it was a private show. It was for a company called Argent. The CEO of the company threw a party for all his workers and was like, “I’m gonna have Tribe Called Quest perform. I’m gonna pay Tribe Called Quest to perform at this party.”
I’m just like, “Dude, what even made you think of us?” You know what I’m saying?
He had a private party for all his workers in the middle of some presentation, and we did a show for an hour.
It was the most bizarre thing I’ve ever done.
That’s the first time you’ve ever done something like that?
Yes. That was really bizarre.
That happens, though.
You figure, like 33-35 year-olds: That’s our audience.
It is – people that were in high school and college when ya’ll came out.
These motherfuckers are executives now.
Did you know of Head-Roc before you met him? How’d you guys meet?
Yeah, I’d heard of his group 3LG. I’d heard 3LG, but I didn’t know that Head-Roc was in the group or nothing like that, but I thought that shit was hot. One day, I was coming from the supermarket with a bunch of bags in my hands, and I guess he knew who I was.
He was like, “Yo, man – you need a ride home?”
I got in the car – he never said anything about being into rap music for the longest time.
I just happened to go to his basement one time and I saw the drum that said “3LG,” and I was like, “Oh, shit – you in 3LG?” He’s like, “Yeah.”
I was like, “Dude, your shit is hot.”
On from there, he had a group called the Infinite Loop, and he was like, “Yeah, you should come check out my group.”
I saw them and I was blown away, because it was 12 dudes that MC and all 12 of them were vicious. So I managed them for a little while, but it was just too many dudes. It was impossible to get anything going.
Me and him was always tight, so when he started to do his solo-thing, I said, “Whatever you need me to do for you, I’m going to do it.”
And that was it.
Are there any other good District MCs that you’d recommend?
Noyeek the Grizzly Bear, of course.
He was in Infinite Loop, right?
Asheru: monster. Poemcees; Team Demolition; Shambhala. Poemcees have one of the best stage shows I’ve seen.
There’s a lot of other MCs, but I don’t like them.
There’s gangsta dudes here. I don’t never be hearin ‘em.
I be hearin ‘em.
Do you pay close attention to D.C. hip-hop?
No. I have good business acumen, but I don’t really carry it like that. If I like you I listen to your shit.
I don’t give a fuck if your shit is good – if I don’t like you, fuck you.
There’s some other guys that might be good, but they acted like assholes or whatever – or tried to treat Heady shitty, bein’ on some jealous shit or whatever. Fuck ‘em.
Heady’s the biggest MC in D.C. right now, right?
We’ve done the most – I mean, yeah. These other cats, except for Asheru – Asheru’s been overseas and stuff like that.
As far as doing all the shows that we do? Nobody’s doing all the shows and getting the write-ups in the papers, and stuff like that, that we do, no.
You think Heady’s sold the most records?
I don’t know. I don’t have a good grasp of how many records he’s sold.
I know we sell to, at least, half the people we perform to.
Ya’ll be out the trunk with it?
Yeah, figuratively. And through the website, CD Baby, stuff like that.
They sell ‘em at the Brian Mackenzie Infoshop. I wanted to ask you: when did Heady start playing with punk bands? Was that your doing?
No, it was just – from doing a lot of social-justice things, the only other people who were doing it were punk bands.
And you know at his show he have a lot of fucking energy. And the punk guys really gravitate towards that.
It just kinda happened, you know what I’m saying? I think President Bush is responsible for that, so he was good for something.
He wanted to know what you thought about OJ.
All: (uproarious laughter)
The OJ Trial? OJ Simpson? You really want to know? Is that really one of the questions?
No. I just thought it would be funny to ask. It’s not on the list.
If the glove doesn’t fit you must acquit. … He probably killed her. But, he wasn’t convicted of it, so leave him alone, ‘cause if it was anybody else, of any other shade: “Not guilty is not guilty.”
We get it rough, boy, when we get it: Kobe, Tyson, Tupac
Tell me about somebody who’s not guilty, first. I think all of them – across the board – are guilty of whatever they were convicted of. Except for Mike Tyson: I don’t think Mike Tyson actually pulled somebody’s pants down and tried to rape ’em. I don’t think that he did that, ‘cause he didn’t have to do that.
Kobe, he was just a little strong with her. I don’t think it was like a violent rape type of thing, it was just a thing of him getting his way. They started to have sex in a consensual manner – he just took it further than she wanted to go. That’s what happened with him.
So, he’s guilty. At any point, when she’s like “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah,” – nah, nah, nah, nah, nah. You know what I’m saying?
He didn’t do that, and he said a lot of nasty shit to her.
I know he’s a hubristic dude.
He really disrespected her. That’s why she’s trying to get him.
Mike Tyson disrespected a girl, like, “No, I’m not walking you downstairs,” but that’s something totally different from Kobe.
Kobe tried to go in the wrong hole and stuff. He tried to take it to the hole too rough. It’s like, “Hold up. You need grease for that. Relax, son.”
That’s going in the paper.
(laughs) Fuck yeah. Put it dude, put it. I don’t care. That’s the wrong hole for that, man. Exit only, baby.
Are there things that you wish you’d done differently, looking back at your career?
(long pause) No, because if I had done things differently, I may not have learned, or be in a position to teach somebody the things that I’ve learned.
You can’t just know shit by osmosis – you gotta have those rough patches to be able to withstand those things.
If you don’t have bad, what are you gonna compare good shit to?
Would you say you have a teacher relationship with Heady?
He would probably say yeah, but I don’t know. I’m sure he learns a lot of stuff from me, but he teaches me a lot of things too.
As far as the music business and stuff like that: Of course.
We’re equals; we’re business partners. It’s not like I’m the boss or he’s the boss.
Anybody who’s been in the music business can teach you a lot of shit, you know?
What do you do as the manager?
I don’t know if this is what a manager is supposed to do, or whatever, but I know my relationship with Heady: Booking shows, picking songs to go on the album, giving him ideas as far as how to actually produce the album, being in the studio recording it, guiding his career – which entails totally different things, from which shirt to put on to which shows to play – you know what I’m saying? For real.
You plot and plan all that?
Yeah, to a degree.
I’m sure ya’ll won’t go to a show in a white T.
If that’s how we feel that day, hell yeah. Definitely. There’s no boundaries. There’s no “We can’t do this, because we’re this.” That would be fake.
If I feel like going onstage wearing a gorilla suit or a clown costume if that’s what I feel like, that’s what I’m gonna do.
Does he turn down a lot of show offers?
We turn down shows if it’s something that we don’t believe in. I’m not gonna get on a stage with Joe Neck Bone and the 15th Street Killers. I’ve turned down some shows with Trick Daddy and shit like that – I can’t really do that with a good conscience.
With Tribe or with Heady?
With Heady. Back in the days Tribe used to do shows with the Geto Boys and shit, dude.
Ya’ll did shows with the Geto Boys!?
I know Face from ’89. We got kicked out of a hotel in Harvey, Illinois, fucking with those dudes.
Yeah, before Willie D was even in the group – when it was Ready Red.
I remember that [uproarious laughter from Chad and Jarobi]. That’s wild.
What does hip-hop mean to you?
[long pause] If you had asked me that question when I was 20-years-old, I would have said, “Hip-hop is everything to me. I’ll die for that shit. I live and breathe hip-hop.”
But that’s not really the case anymore. I love hip-hop, don’t get me wrong – it’s partly responsible for the person that I am now.
It’s a tool to my growth, but am I gonna fucking die for some hip-hop beef? Absolutely not.
I love it and I honor it and I respect it, but there’s a lot of other things to life.
It’s a tool that should be used properly.
I can have a hammer and make a table and that’s beautiful, but I can take that same hammer and go out and knock motherfuckers in the head, and that shit is the most violent, ugly thing in the world. That’s how I feel about hip hop – does that make sense?
Yup. I think that was pretty well put.
Have you heard of Ani Difranco?
She has a t-shirt that says, “Every tool is a weapon if you hold it right.”
There you go.
It’s important, though. Hip-hop is the most unifying force in the world. Nothing unifies people more than hip-hop — in the world — nothing. Even sports can be divisive, but you go to a hip-hop show, you’ll see a whole cross-section of humanity.
So, it’s very important – but I’m not dying for shit except my family.
I felt differently about that, though, but we grow and evolve.
When your son gets of age, hip-hop’s still gonna be going, and there’s still gonna be gangstas — ‘cause that’s what they promote. So, he’s 13: He want the new Ruckus Raw Killers. You gonna let him get it?
Yes, but the difference is, I’m gonna sit with him and listen to it and break it down, and let him know what what is…
…I’m the first generation to be raised on hip hop…I remember the first rap records. I remember when there wasn’t no rap records. I remember when there wasn’t no rap on the radio. I remember when, shit, they used to have songs with rap in them, and they’d take the rapper part out in order to play it on the radio – that’s when I grew up.
And, along with that, I know every rapper – from my era and a lot of these kids now. I know everybody, and everybody’s cool with me.
So when ya’ll was coming up, everyone was pretty cool, for the most part?
With us? Yeah. Everybody was cool with Tribe Called Quest. We had the boom-bap. You can’t deny the drums, everybody like that. Not to be cocky. We didn’t run into too many haters.
People ask me, “I don’t know nothing about rap; What should I listen to?” I tell ‘em “Low End Theory.”
What’s the best tour you’ve been on?
With Public Enemy. That Beastie Boys tour was hot, though, our last tour – a lot of memories.
It’s more spot dates, rather than tours. Tours, you know, it’s just city to city.
Oh no, I’m sorry – the dope tour was Tribe Called Quest, Digital Underground, Queen Latifah, and
So was Tupac in that?
Yeah, he was a dancer, dude.
And who else? I think it was Third Bass. That was a hot tour. We had mad fun, cause everybody was cool with each other. We used to have water fights and shit every day, playing pranks and stuff like that. That was cool.
Did hang out with Tupac at all?
Hell yeah. A lot.
What was he like?
When I met him, he was young. He didn’t curse a lot, never said “nigger.” He was a poet, a revolutionary cat. When I saw him change was during that movie “Juice.” They did that up in Harlem, and I was living on 89th St. at the time. I was one of the only people [in the city] that he knew. He used to call me at like 8 in the morning “Yo, bring me a blunt, yo.”
He was a cool guy.
I don’t really know the Makaveli dude, the guns and thug life – I don’t really know that guy.
From what I know of him, he’s a real square dude – meaning good.
What do you do during a Tribe show?
Ab-lib some bullshit, like hype-man.
Why’d you move to D.C.?
I love it here. I tried Atlanta, but it was too slow, and this is close enough to my family in New York where I can get there, but it’s not New York in the middle of the city. It’s a step down, but not all the way down. D.C.’s a good place.
Where do you see hip-hop going?
Everything runs in cycles. The Bush-era is really in effect now. I think it’s going to go back to like it was when it first came out – I think it’s going to go back to conscious hip-hop. It has no choice.
Hip-hop always gives the public what it needs. Now it needs some more positive stuff.
You can already feel the backlashes against the 50 Cents and stuff like that.
People are like, “That’s some bullshit.”
That’s the rumblings on the street, but where it’s different now is that the suburban kids aren’t out on the street – they just see what’s on TV and cling to that.
Who do you think are the most powerful voices in hip-hop today?
Eminem could change the world if he wanted to.
Let’s see….The most powerful voices in hip-hop…Are there any?
I thought Eminem was going to decide the [2004 presidential] election.
I thought he was too.
Puffy has proved to be a much more influential person than I thought he would be.
If Wu-Tang ever got their shit together, they could have a very powerful voice.
That’s all I can really think of now. I mean, no one really believes 50.
Dr. Dre’s a pretty powerful person.
You mean powerful in terms of industry, or you mean powerful, like if he says some shit people are gonna listen to him?
That’s two different questions.
Jay Z’s the most powerful person in hip-hop on both sides. He’s part of so many trends and he’s done so much in the industry and business-wise: He’s the most powerful person.
I always forget about him, but yeah, he’s the most powerful person.
If he ever decided, “Today I’m gonna say something socially relevant,” he would change the whole scope of shit. One record, he would change the whole scope of shit.
He has a quote, and I wish that I was more versed in Jay Z’s shit, but he said something like “I wish I could come out and make every record like Common Sense, but I wasn’t making no dollars, so that’s not common sense,”
Yeah, “I wasn’t making no dollars, so I ain’t sound like Common Sense. Lyrically I be like Talib Kweli.’”
Yeah. And again, that’s, “I can do more with me making a whole bunch of money than with me saying something relative, ‘cause I can help more people than a broke motherfucker yelling from the rooftops – it’s not really the same thing as being rich and being able to give people jobs and stuff like that.”
And I totally understand what he’s saying, but damn, you could mix it up a little bit.
Anything else you want to say to our readers?
Think for yourself, make your own decisions. That’s the biggest advice I can ever give anybody. Don’t be sheep or lemmings.