A Tribe Called Quest is one of the most influential groups in all of hip hop. Their beats, lyrics and style all framed what hip hop has become today.
After pumping out five albums in the 1990s, the group went on a hiatus. Although they have reunited since then, headlining the "Rock the Bells" tour in 2008, the group hasn't released an album since 1998.
Actor-turned-director Michael Rapaport has been a Tribe fan his entire life and is currently on the promotion trail with his new documentary, Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest. Though the entire group hasn't shown full support for the film throughout, member Phife Dawg has been Mike's right-hand man.
Phife has been excited to celebrate the greatness Tribe created and the impact they had on music, as well as pop culture. Phife's love beyond music is sports, and being born and raised in Queens, New York, it's no surprise he has a passion for the New York Knicks.
The opinionated sports fan took time out from the film's promotional campaign to chat about his favorite basketball team, the documentary, rap music today and how he'd like to help the Knicks. Check out his interview below.
Q: First off, what did you think of the job Mike D'Antoni did with the Knicks this season?
A: They had a great season. I'm thankful for Amar'e Stoudemire and what he was able to do. I really liked Raymond Felton, Gallo [Danilo Gallinari] and all of them too, but unfortunately they went to Denver. I was elated to hear that Carmelo Anthony was coming to the Knicks. He's my second-favorite NBA player, and to have him on my hometown team is real cool.
The way the Knicks ended the season, though, left a sour taste in my mouth. I don't think Mike D'Antoni holds any one player accountable for their lack of defense. He never made it to the Finals with the Suns because the Spurs used to kill them. Steve Nash won two MVP awards, but his team lost in the playoffs because he couldn't stop Tony Parker on defense.
I'm used to the days where Charles Oakley and guys like that would bring the defensive intensity and contribute so many intangibles. You wouldn't see things like that on the stat sheet. He would dive for loose balls and keep possessions alive. He did his thing. They didn't win any championships, but they were able to rely on defense.
Q: Were you disappointed the Knicks failed to win a game in the playoffs?
A: These Knicks needed an inside presence. The Celtics killed them on the boards—it was ridiculous. The sad thing is even beyond that, they still competed through the first two games. I didn't appreciate them coming home and getting blown out. You can't blame that on anything else but coaching.
When Felton and the gang left for Denver, the Knicks were like two games above .500. After Carmelo comes over, the team ended the season closer to .500. There's nothing else to blame but coaching because the Knicks are supposed to be better with the new players. I know [Chauncey] Billups was hurt, so I give him some leeway on that, but D'Antoni has to go. He's got to go.
Q: So what do the Knicks need to do in order to improve next season?
A: In Phife's perfect world, if I were the general manager and coach of the New York Knicks, I would bring Chauncey Billups off the bench. I know he just signed for like $15 million, and that's okay, but he's older now. Can he keep up with guys like Rajon Rondo and Brandon Jennings? The true sports head knows that that just isn't the case.
In my perfect world, I know bring Chauncey off the bench in favor of a faster and younger point guard. Getting a guy like Chris Paul at this point seems like mission impossible though. In terms of a big man, I know Dwight Howard is probably a pipe dream too. Marc Gasol is probably a bit more realistic.
I would've really liked to keep Felton after that trade too. I wouldn't mind getting him back at some point. The Knicks could have played him and Chauncey together! They may need to alternate point guards every once in a while when it comes to Chauncey. Everyone knows he's been around and he's All-Star-caliber, but Felton was right there ready to knock the door off the hinges.
Look at the Nuggets team now. I know they lost in the first round too, but they did well changing it up between Felton and Ty Lawson at the point. Lawson got the NCAA title with the Tar Heels in '09, and Felton got it with the Tar Heels in '05. They know how to win. Getting them to play well together was all about coaching. George Karl is a better coach than D'Antoni.
Q: It sounds like you don't think D'Antoni should continue to coach the team, but who are the Knicks' other options?
A: I would love to get Doc Rivers at the helm, not only because he played with the Knicks, but because he preaches defense! Tom Thibodeau was an assistant with the Knicks all those years and even with Boston when they won big, so I would've loved to see him come here before the Knicks decided on D'Antoni. Jeff Van Gundy coming back to New York would nice to see, but even Mark Jackson also.
I love Byron Scott too, because every team he coaches ends up being competitive. I don't think we'll ever see Scott with the Knicks though because for some reason I doubt he returns to the Tri-State area after his time with the Nets. There's a bunch of people out there that could help the Knicks, but you know what? They need to hire me, for real. Me and Mike will do it!
Q: It's ironic that you say the Knicks should "hire" you. Why haven't you done a "Go NY Go!" remix or some other Knicks jingle yet? Swizz Beatz just remixed it for the playoffs, and your Tribe-mate Q-Tip did it in 2009. Would you be up for doing something like that?
A: I've done different things. I did something for the Minnesota Vikings. I had something going with the Warriors too, but their season had already started so they didn't use it. I recently did something for the Mavericks that was used during one of their playoff runs. I would love to do something for my hometown Knicks though. I just figured it was far-fetched for the simple fact that so many rappers are from New York.
You know what? Now that I think about it, the Knicks don't get a lot of New York City point guards though. I can only remember Mark Jackson and Rod Strickland.
Q: I'm guessing you aren't a Stephon Marbury fan?
A: I love Stephon Marbury, but that was just a zoo. When he was here, it was a circus. Anyway, getting back to my point, I'd love to do something with the Knicks. Next season...pshh...what?! I'd love to do it!
Q Let's talk about the documentary a bit. I know your group mates haven't been as supportive of it, but you've been on the promotion trail with Mike consistently. I'm sure he appreciates that you've had his back—how important has being so involved been to you?
A: It's important because I know how much time he put into his vision. I understand where my group comes from, but I just feel like we've missed out on so much already. I wasn't going to miss out on this no matter what. Whatever the group needed to do, or whatever we still need to do to get things right, we just need to get it done. I wanted to step up to the plate and say let me try and make things happen. I'm really enjoying the film and have been overwhelmed by the love it's gotten so far.
Q: This just seems like a great opportunity for everyone to celebrate the type of things Tribe accomplished.
A: That's exactly my point. I wish the rest of my group would join in as we do that, but there are four types of personalities involved, so not everyone is going to agree. That's life though, man. You know—beats, rhymes and life! Ha ha. Hopefully we'll get it together though.
Q: Tribe produced some of the best rap music of all time. I know Mike calls your time in hip hop the "golden era" and so many people criticize what rap music has become since then. What do you think of the rap game today with artists like Lil Wayne and Drake now leading the charge?
A: I'm a Lil Wayne fan, I'm not going to lie to you. I saw a growth in him as an artist. He's not only a big-time CEO now, but also the only cat really getting any type of radio play right now. You can't be mad at him for that though, because he put in the work. Drake and Wayne have skills, but Nicki Minaj is in a whole different stratosphere right now. She's just rhyming like there's no turning back. I have to respect that.
As far as most of the other rappers in the game right now, what I will say is that I don't think a lot of them are in it for the long haul. They are just in and out because they think they can make a quick dollar. My advice to them is that they better start up some stocks and bonds or something! The rap game is too fickle for them to put out any trash. You have to do your homework.
Tribe has been blessed to be here for the long haul and have fans that want us to do something new, even after 13 years. We've been blessed, but if you don't honor your craft, it will be taken from you.
Q: Finally, I know that Mike wants to introduce your music to new hip hop listeners that may not have been as interested when the group was around. Why should a more casual fan want to get familiar with Tribe?
A: It's hip hop. If you have any love for that type of music, you need to go see this film. Not to pat myself or the rest of the group on the back for we did, but whether you're a casual fan, an emphatic fan—whatever—you just need to see this film.
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