A Conversation With Ali Shaheed
Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest. The culture, the depth and the authenticity of it all thrilled me, but something was different for me. Ali Shaheed Muhammed really showed a side that I never knew existed. Let’s just say it was very enlightening. -Mashonda
When did it hit you that A Tribe Called Quest was a legendary group?
It was at the 2008 Rock The Bells tour. That’s when it really settled in. For some reason, I’ve never felt comfortable on stage. It’s not that I’m nervous; this has to do with my spirituality. I feel that only the creator deserves any great amount of attention from humanity. Me standing on stage is like me knowing I’m going to be before my creator one day. I don’t want to ever get my ego involved. But when it hit me, I just said, 'Thank you,' and kept it moving on to the next moment.
What’s your favorite Tribe song?
I don’t have a favorite tribe song. I have a couple of standouts but not a favorite. They all take me to a certain place. We have songs that you guys have not heard.
How did you feel when you read Q-Tip’s group resignation letter?
I was shocked. I was also understanding. It didn’t hit me that he was going to do the solo thing until years later. These guys are my family. We made a lot of music together, and we’ve done a lot of things together. With that said, it was really about the brotherhood. I didn’t want to be selfish and be like, 'What about us?' I’m a very accommodating person. So much that it may annoy people.
Do you still have the letter?
Yes. I still have the letter. Everyone wants that letter.
I recently watched your documentary and even through the most difficult moments you always come across so zen and at peace. Were you always that way?
I don’t think I was always this way, but I learned how to balance life, look over, reflect and self evaluate. I’ve always had a balance of perspective. The guys call me the voice of reason. I get it now, but it was an annoying tag name. Negativity will only cut time off of your life and decreases your enjoyment. It’s a waste of your life being in negativity and not really embracing the opportunity that can come when you embrace something positive.
I’m going to be very honest right now! I don’t know if anyone has told you but you are aging so gracefully, you’re really giving off a lot of sexy nowadays.
[Laughing and blushing] I have heard that I sleep in an oxygen chamber. It’s interesting you ask me that. I’ve been hearing that. I don’t know…it’s God you know. I don’t know what else to say. It’s God. Thanks to Mom and Dad.
What do you do to stay fit and healthy?
I don’t like the taste of alcohol, so I don’t drink. I’ve never smoked weed or cigarettes. I drink a lot of water. I’ve even gotten into the habit within the past 15 years [where] I don’t drink too much juice because it’s a lot of sugar. It’s just a matter of balance, diet and exercise. I have my moments where I’ll go really hard for two months and then I won’t for another two years depending on how I’m doing everything else. I am a crazy chocolate, cookie and cake fanatic. It’s just really about balance. I also stay in prayer. They say it’s good genes. My great grand mother is 106 and still kicking.
What’s the best advice to having a successful relationship with someone in the music industry?
I don’t know. You might be asking the wrong person.
Really? Let’s just say you are dealing with a woman who is not in the industry, what would you tell her?
Well, first and foremost being in tune with yourself is a priority. You really need to know who you are, then you can easily articulate your wishes, your wants, your expectations and be in charge of your emotions. It is kind of a challenge to do that because we speak emotionally lots of times, and we are not really speaking heart. You have to have understanding. You have to understand that our lifestyle [and] certain environments are not conducive to a good union. And, understand that your partner is a human being, and it is understandable why emotions get heightened. It’s also about learning. It’s kind of like filtering through all these emotions and miscommunications or what you think is being conveyed. Really trying to have patience to understand and be honest. Being successful is important but at what stake? I can’t say that if you asked me this at 23 I would be able to answer that and be so connected. That’s just experience speaking, and even still with what I know, it is still a struggle.
Are you a momma’s boy?
I always tell her that she’s more valuable to me now as an adult, than I think as a child. I think that I can appreciate her experiences and views more now. When your mom tells you something and you’re seven years old and there’s a reason, you have no idea.
What can we look forward to from Mr. Muhammed?
I am working on my second solo record. I have taken these past few years to really sharpen my emcee skills. I have a song on there with Phife that I really love. It’s a fun song. There’s a song with De La Sol, so I got some classic stuff. I actually am doing three records at one time--hip-hop, dance and alternative. I’m also writing for a few other people and just staying inspired musically. I’m still growing as a musician. I am trying to find enough quiet time to play cello. That’s like my ultimate instrument. It’s a very warm, emotional instrument. I am just striving to earn the creators favor.
It was pouring outside of the New York City restaurant that we chose to meet at. I prayed that Ali wouldn’t cancel due to weather but as soon as I walked in, there he was. Timeless and classic. Not only was our conversation one of the most spiritual ones I’ve ever had with a stranger, but I knew that he honestly had become the man that he said his mother wanted him to be. “I can tell you what my goals are and that is to strive to earn the favor of the creator and that is not easy to do with all of the vastness that this world has for the eyes to see.”