For years, journalist Elliott Wilson has engaged today’s hip-hop and rap scene in open and revealing dialog by way of his interview series #CRWN. He has spoken with DJ Khaled, Drake, Nicki Minaj and many more. “I like to talk to the best in the biz,” he says.
On Friday night (Nov. 18), Wilson proved that to be true as he spoke with Q-Tip and Jarobi White of A Tribe Called Quest (along with collaborators Busta Rhymes and Consequence) about their return after nearly two decades and the release of the acclaimed We Got It From Here, Thank You for Your Service.
Q-Tip, clad in all black with a leopard print coat, started things off with a one-on-one interview. He was later joined by Jarobi, who repped ATCQ’s own merch, but once Busta Rhymes and Consequence — he brought his son on stage with him — took their seats in the plush red velvet chairs, the energy in the room changed. The four made each other laugh endlessly, expressed their unwavering love and appreciation for one another, remembered founding member, the late Phife Dawg, and discussed the divine powers involved with their new album.
Here are 10 of the best quotes from the interview, which was put on in part by Tidal and New York’s Nue Agency and took place at Webster Hall in the East Village.
1. “It was the blackest SNL ever.”
Early into the interview Wilson asked Q-Tip about the group’s musical act debut last weekend on Saturday Night Live. For the performance, Tip and White selected the incredibly well-timed hit “We the People…” and were joined by Busta Rhymes and Consequence for “The Space Program.” Tip said, “We did it feeling everything happening up the block,” as the show aired while protests were happening simultaneously.
2. “Music doesn’t encapsulate the bond we all have.”
After being asked about repairing his friendship with Phife Dawg, Tip said there is a misconception about any differences the two once had: “We’ve had our shit, but that’s just our relationship.” He said the two spoke and mended any unresolved issues following their reunion in 2006 (they broke up in 1998) “and got right back to where we needed to be.” He explained how he and Phife grew up together and started rapping a the age of 9, and that while the music is great it can’t document the history they all share.
3. “He basically gave his life to make this album.”
Tip talked about the Tribe’s standout performance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon last year, which marked their first time performing together since opening for Kanye West in 2013. The performance was made even more special, though, as the Tribe was celebrating the 25th anniversary of their 1990 debut album, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. Following the performance, Tip said “we immediately felt that energy,” and soon after decided to make an EP that then “ballooned into an album.” He also explained how due to Phife’s ongoing battle with diabetes, the travel and time commitment involved in finishing this album took a lot out of the MC prior to his passing in March of this year.
4. “He was a disco n—a.”
Recalling his relationship with Phife and looking back on some of his favorite sessions, Tip shared how the two would often all be hanging at his home studio, AbLab, and how he always had music playing throughout the house that Phife would dance to. “‘We Got the Funk,’ we was on that shit heavy,” Tip said.
5. “This whole project was divinely inspired.”
While discussing the impressive and impeccable rhymes that White delivers on the new album, he said, “I can’t even take credit.” White explained that while “Phife groomed me for this moment,” the entire project has an element of divinity to it in terms of how it brought the Tribe back together — “comradery was at an all time high” — and its incredibly relevant timing. Tip later mirrored this sentiment, and said, “This incarnation of Tribe is divine order… it’s the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done.”
6. “I’m the freest when I’m working with them.”
As soon as Busta Rhymes stepped on stage, his fandom for the Tribe became incredibly clear. “I’m the biggest Tribe fan in the planet,” he said. He explained his long-lived relationship with each of the Tribe’s members and said how when he would record alone he doesn’t allow anyone in on his process from fear of being judged on something before it’s done — “I don’t want a motherf—— misjudging my shit before it’s finished” — but when it comes to recording with Tribe he loses such inhibitions. “They embrace me for who I’ve always been and they encourage that shit,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to be in the group.”
7. “I know Phife is looking down laughing his ass off.”
Tip, White, Rhymes and Cons couldn’t keep from making one another laugh the entirety of the 90-minute interview. “There’s a lot of inside jokes,” Tip said. They surely kept one another, and the audience at the live taping, entertained though what really got them was when Rhymes pulled a flash drive out of his pocket, “That’s really the album,” White said when he could catch his breath. Rhymes explained how he’s tearing through New York nightlife and hearing songs off the new album reverberate through nearly every club he rolls through. And when it’s not being played, well, that’s why he keeps the flash drive on hand.
8. “It’s like geezer rap.”
Towards the end of the interview, the conversation waxed slightly political. Tip first started to speak of the need to eliminate sexism, and the lesser discussed topic of ageism — “I’m proud, I’m 46” — as he said many believe “rap is a young man’s game.” He explained how hip-hop came up right in step with punk rock, and their attitude was to “destroy the constructs that restrain you from being yourself,” a notion echoed throughout the album. He then said how “ill” it is that 2016 is charged with the Internet and began to (wrongly) list off various social media platforms before laughing at himself and saying, “The geezers are back!”
9. “We’re hoping in true hip-hop form, it sends the bat signal out.”
Tip shared how Tribe never imagined they would drop a new album in 2016 while the country would be at such a crossroads. He said he hopes the new project inspires other acts such as Divine Council, Kendrick, Big Boi “or the whole community” to step up, too. He continued to say the album transcends any one person who contributed to it, “it’s bigger than that,” and how he wants the whole hip-hop community to look at this moment and examine it and “really start to be more conscious and aware of where we’re at in this world.”
10. “There was no not finishing this.”
When asked by Wilson what had to be done to bring this album to completion, White explained “dude [Phife] sacrificed his life for this and this is what he wanted.” He recalled how there were times in the beginning when he and Tip would be listening to Phife’s vocals and would need to stop or leave. “It was really difficult to do,” White said, “but it felt like there was a tremendous push on our back, this wind in our sails.” Although, that wind didn’t prevent them from cutting it close to deadline. Perfectionist producer Tip, known to take a long time when it comes to finalizing a song or project he’s on, (Rhymes calls him a scientist in the studio) said they pushed the deadline until the very last minute. “We finished it the 9th, and it came out the 11th,” he said. “Kanye is known to push shit, but this tops it.”
Tune in to the full interview, which will stream on Tidal, on Tuesday (Nov. 22) at 6 p.m. ET.