Interview: Phife Dawg Talks Red Bull BC One, Competing With N.W.A., Wu-Tang, And More

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On Saturday, Aug. 22, sixteen of the best B-Boys will go one-on-one at the Red Bull BC North American Finals in Orlando for a chance to compete in the next world finals in Rome.

Hosted by veteran hip-hop journalist, Sway Calloway, the event will also include a special performance by classic rhymerslinger Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest.

Before the B-Boys bring their A-game in Orlando this weekend, VIBE caught up with Phife Dawg for a chat about the competition, the impact of N.W.A.and Wu-Tang Clan, ghostwriting and more.

VIBE: Phife, you’re from the golden era of hip-hop. So how does it feel to be part of Red Bull BC One’s event where they are striving to keep the fundaemtal elements alive.?
I’m just excited to be part of the program, hip-hop is close to my heart as you know. I’ll be performing, and it’s going down this Saturday.

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Everyone knows about your mic skills but were you ever a B-Boy?
Nah, I was always just a spitter. As far as B-boying and breakdancing, nah, I was never into that. I mean, I used to pop-lock a little bit [laughs]. But as far as spinning on my head and stuff like that, nah.

So you’re performing, what’s your favorite Tribe songs to run through?
Umm, as far Tribe. “Check The Rhyme,” “Find A Way,” “Electric Relaxation,”a nd “World Tour.” Those songs always kill it. I like to perform most of the Tribe’s catalogue because the fans feel it so much. But I’m also looking forward to performing some new stuff as well. But it really doesn’t matter. Once my DJ tells me we’re ready, I go to work. I’ll perform maybe five or six songs. You never know, the crowd may be hype once we get there, and I’ll get down into the wee hours.

Tribe and N.W.A. had very different styles but were y’all ever in competition with each other?
It was definitely competition sonically. We were doing something totally differently and they were doing their thing. But sonically, Dre’s sound was just crazy. When you look at N.W.A.’s instrumentals you be like, ‘Damn, he’s doing it big.’ And that’s exactly the way Q-Tip and Ali were feeling. So they felt that they had to come sonically correct as well. So yes, competition was definitely crazy as far as how you wanted the music itself to sound. Now lyrically, we were somewhere else. But we would definitely listen to them like, ‘Wow, they can actually say and get away with it?’

What about Wu-Tang?
We dropped Midnight Marauders the same day as Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers. We’ve been always neck and neck with Wu. It was kind of unfair being that it was eleven of them. But competition brings out the good in everybody. But it was always love between us and them. But in the back of your head you’re like, ‘Yo, this kid is nice. These cats are nice. We got to step up our game.’

There’s been a lot of talk about reference tracks and ghostwriting going on lately in rap. Has that always been part of the game that most consumers don’t know about?
It’s been going on for years especially in the R&B game. But in hip hop it only goes on for some. I can’t call it because we ain’t never really done that. But, in my group, A Tribe Called Quest , we’ve done that on occasion because we were a team. But, everybody was still writing their own rhymes. Once we get in the booth, Q Tip may say, ‘What do you think of this? Take that out, put this in.’ I may say the same thing. We make references amongst the group but everyone is writing their own rhymes.

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What advice do you have for the today’s generation of MCs.
Stop biting. Be original and I promise you things will fall in place. Everybody can’t be Future. Everybody is taking the easy route. It’s going to bottom out eventually. When we wwere doing our thing, you had to be original. Take the Juice Crew for instance. Everybody in the Juice Crew were being themselves. Master Ace did him, Kool G Rap was the criminal of the crew. Big Daddy Kane was the ladies man and battle cat of the crew. Craig G was also the battle cat of the crew. Everybody had their own lane. I wish hip-hop would get back to that. Everybody make their own lane like how Kanye West did when he first came out. He was far to the left but you couldn’t compete because conceptually he was killing the game.

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The sixteen competitors of the Red Bull BC North Ameican Final include: JoshSkittle (Honolulu, Hawaii), Kid Cruz (Denver, Colo.), Fléau (Montréal, Canada), DQ (Bladensburg, Md.), Zeku (Miami, Fla.), Illz (Toronto, Canada), Starvin’ Sa-Ewl (Rialto, Calif.), Ben (Las Vegas, Nev.), ICEY IVES (Anchorage, Alaska), Moy (Houston, Texas), Mighty Wealthy (Brooklyn Park, Minn.), Frankie (Queens, N.Y.), Napalm (Philadelphia, Pa.), Rion (San Diego, Calif.), Insight (Orlando, Fla.) and Victor (Orlando, Fla.).

Fans can catch Phife’s performance and the competition during the livestream tomorrow (Aug. 22) beginning at 8:00 at Red Bull BC One’s website and VIBE.com.