Q-Tip noted on A Tribe Called Quest’s classic ode to spittin’ game, 1993’s “Electric Relaxation,” that, “A-yo my man Phife Diggy, he got something to say.” But on a warm day in May 2010 what Phife Dawg needs to speak on aren’t young ladies who have “got the goods, like Madeline Woods,” but rather recent statements Mutty Ranks made to HipHopDX during his feature interview for the site.
Speaking to DX on Monday (May 24th), Phife followed up on those previous comments with the following: “I wanted to clear the air as far as the part [of the interview] with Consequence. ‘Cause he’s pretty upset. And like I said in the article, I never had a problem with Consequence. But I think with the article he felt belittled. Now, I haven’t spoken to him yet, ‘cause we been playing phone tag. But, I just wanted to clear the air ‘cause that’s just how I am, I’m a man of my word… Anything that I said in the last article, of course it was no malicious intent directed towards Consequence. Me and him has always been cool. My issues with Q-Tip have absolutely nothing to do with Consequence. So, love is love, hopefully me and Consequence will get to talk soon and clear the air. As far as what I said other than that, there’s no apologies needed, ‘cause it is what it is at the end of the day… There’s no bitterness in my heart, it’s just real talk is real talk. I’ve kept my mouth shut for the longest, and I just felt like it was time for me to speak out on shit that I really don’t believe in, shit that I really don’t respect, and it is what it is. But as far as people thinking I’m bitter, that’s really not the case. ‘Cause after what I been through, to come out of that, c’mon man, I’m happier than you can imagine. So all that other shit is really child’s play compared to what I made it through… And I really don’t wanna talk about the health issue too much because now it’s starting to become a gimmick. I’m about to start my foundation, Phife For Life, and I just wanna give back to the JDRF – Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund, as well as the kidney foundation. Because giving back is what means most to me at the end of the day - whether that’s through music, foundations, and my other first love, basketball, that’s what’s up… [But as for the interview] I just basically was answering the questions that were asked. Now, normally I don’t do too many interviews, because there’s been times where my words were taken out of context and things of that nature. But I can say for this article I said what I said, and that’s the bottom line.”
Although Phife wishes not to have the focus of his musical comeback be centered around his past health struggles, HipHopDX would like to provide the previously unpublished portion of his feature interview that provides perspective for those who are unaware of just what the “fly emcee who’s five-foot-three and very brave” went through to be here alive and able to speak his piece with DX.
HipHopDX: If I understand what happened correctly…at first the doctors told your wife not to get tested to see if she would be a match to donate one of her kidneys [to you], but then [a few years later] she went on her own without you even knowing and got tested and found out she was a match?
Phife Dawg: Well, no… What happened was, when she initially wanted to get tested – My wife is really, really tiny. She’s like a 100 pounds, wet - a really little girl. And at the time I was much bigger than her. So they didn’t think it was gonna work, [and] so she never got tested early on. This is when I was at the hospital in Atlanta [in 2004]… Originally my dad was gonna be my donor, but he had some health issues of his own that he didn’t necessarily know about [previously]. So he couldn’t do it. And then my partna was supposed to do it. And he was cool physically and he was a match, but mentally I think it was fuckin’ with him. And, you know, that’s a normal reaction for someone who’s never been under the knife like that. And me personally, I’m not really built to ask for that, because what if his kids need [a kidney], what if his mom’s needs it. You still gotta think about all of these things. So, he wasn’t able to do it neither. So now I’m running around – [I] gotta restart the search for who’s gonna get tested, who’s gonna be a match…
I started off [in 2004] doing peritoneal dialysis. And that’s when you’re at home [and self-administering the dialysis], and it suited my lifestyle being that I was still going on the road and performing and stuff. I just had to make sure I took my medicine everyday, or whenever I had to. Peritoneal dialysis is when you [have a catheter surgically inserted into your abdomen that then allows for dialysate fluid to flush out your kidneys]. [You] do it yourself, four bags a day, every four hours. So if I start at six a.m. in the morning, my last bag was at six p.m. So it [ended up being] really difficult to leave [my house], because when you leave you gotta worry about getting back on time. So if I do it at six, I gotta be back in the house at 10 a.m. It was crazy.
So, at that point I was getting bloated, because what you gotta do is drain and then refill [and] I was refilling more than I was draining. So I really started to get like kinda bloated… So after awhile I couldn’t really handle it. And to make a long story short, I went to the hospital and they told me I need to set it off with hemodialysis. Now hemodialysis is when you go to the clinic, maybe 3, 4 times a week, and they do it for you. So once I started doing that, like the weekend after Memorial Day ’07, then I started to lose the weight. I started to lose the weight like rapidly… I was going to the clinic like Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. And I was rapidly losing the weight.
So everything’s starting to work itself out, but people weren’t seeing me ‘cause now I’m all the way out in the bay area with wifey and the family. So a lot of people weren’t seeing me. I’d go to the clinic, I’d go home. So [then] Fab 5 Freddy calls to do Vh1 Hip Hop Honors. I didn’t wanna go, ‘cause I knew people would start talking ‘cause I was losing weight. They’ll talk a whole bunch of nonsense [about] what they don’t know, but you can’t really knock ‘em for what they don’t know. So initially I wasn’t gonna go, but Fab 5 Freddy really stuck his neck out for me to make sure I was comfortable… And we’ve never really been honored like that, so I was like, “Aight, fuck it, I’ll go.” Big mistake. I went, then Wendy Williams ripped me to shreds, whoever else was talking nonsense ripped me to shreds because I [had] really kept everything on the low. I started taking this medicine back in ’04, now mind you this is ’07 when I went to the Hip Hop Honors, so for three good years I kept everything on the low. A couple of people knew, but it wasn’t on blast until they actually saw it. And that’s why I say it was a big mistake. I should’ve just parlayed.
DX: Plus Lupe Fiasco messed up your verse and…
Phife Dawg: Yeah, but see – For me at the time, that was nothing. That was nothing…compared to what I was already going through. But I was just turning a corner, [and so] even though they thought I looked bad, I felt like a million bucks. Because, when I got married in ’05 I was big, and I was very uncomfortable. I looked normal and everything in the face, but I was uncomfortable. And it started to affect my heart and all types of shit. So now that they’re looking at me and I’m slimmer, they think I’m really bad off – even Q-Tip did, he thought I was bad off. But I was actually fine! Like, “Yo, I’m good.” So, hemo really saved my life, pretty much… [And so then] my wife decided to get tested because I lost the weight and now me and her are pretty much the same size for a minute… So she said, “Yo, I’ma go get tested…” She goes and gets tested, but now they’re like, “Okay, you’re cool, but you gotta take [inaudible] pills,” ‘cause she was kinda anemic… So she took her pills and then she went back and got tested again. She came home jumping up and down. And I’m like, “Boo, what’s wrong with you?” She’s like, “I’m a match! I’m a match!” And I was like, “What are you talking about?” She was like, “I’m gonna give you the kidney…” And I just looked at her like she was crazy, like, are you serious? In other words to say, that shit was under our nose all this time. [And] we was really stressing the whole time. And just to see that it was her, [starts to get choked up], all along, that just fucked me up. I couldn’t even react for a second. So once I got wind of it and I was able to really put it in my back pocket like, “Wow, that’s crazy,” we just bawled. Like, we just started [crying] like two little kids.
And that’s kind of the reason why I decided to keep rhyming, ‘cause I wasn’t gonna rhyme no more, I was just gonna produce and put artists out. ‘Cause I was outta the game so long I didn’t think it made a lot of sense…unless it was a [A Tribe Called Quest] venture. So I really wasn’t gonna rhyme no more, but then I took a trip to New York when they finally – Well, let me go back a little bit. The [kidney transplant] took place in September [of 2008], and everything went fine. But, I had what you call a “sleepy kidney,” ‘cause it really didn’t kick in until like two months later. So, [until then] I just had to stay on my medicines.
[During that time] Alonzo Mourning reached out to me, a lot of people I didn’t expect to reach out, they just reached out and wished me luck. And that meant a lot, [starts to get choked up], because growing up a Knicks fan, I thought Alonzo Mourning was the meanest muthafucka in the world – playing for the [Miami] Heat, and we getting suspended ‘cause he fighting with us and vice versa. And then he reached out to me, [and] I was like, “This is who?!” …Nas, [Michael] Rapaport, Chuck D, everybody [reached out]. And that’s why it hurted me when MC Breed passed away from the whole kidney shit. That hurt. Because right when I was getting better and the kidney started to kick in, I got news that he passed away. Then of course J. Dilla passed away in 2006 due to Lupus. And now Guru’s gone. It’s like crazy, man. I gotta count my blessings at the end of the day.
So anyway, after the surgery – It happened in September, but I had sleepy kidney and it didn’t really wake up and kick in until like the day before New Year’s Eve ’09. That’s when it woke up. And I took a visit to the hospital so they could check on me…[and] they was like, “Hey, you’re good. You can go. You can do what you [wanna] do.” And the first thing I did was book a ticket to New York so I could go see my little brother play high school basketball, ‘cause I didn’t get a chance to see him play. [Instead] I’d be coaching him over the phone… So I went out there, I surprised him, went to his games, and…I was back.
DX: Wow. I’ve gotten a lot of this story already from that recent interview with Okayplayer that you did. [And] I know you, like every person, doesn’t wanna be pitied, but reading that for the first time was just heartbreaking… I just gotta ask, how did you keep yourself motivated, how did you stay up, how did you keep from just wanting to throw in the towel altogether?
Phife Dawg: Well, [at] the beginning, I mean, like anybody else I was scared. But when you start to get an understanding for what you’re going through and what it would take in order to have a chance to make it, then I started to get comfortable with it. And then going back on the road with the group, it took my mind off of it a lot. It was like real therapeutic for me to go on the road with the group ‘cause I wasn’t thinking about it 24/7… But from the months of like October ’06 to May of ’07, I was bad off. Like, I just wanted to give up. I wasn’t even watching T.V. I wasn’t doing nothing. I wasn’t leaving the house, ‘cause remember earlier I said I had to stay and make sure that I was taking my medicine on point, on time, four times a day. So I went into a slight depression. And like I told you, I’m a basketball fanatic and my favorite college basketball team – well that’s my favorite sport, but my favorite team is [University of] North Carolina. And this is how you know I was bad off, I’m watching the game but the game is really watching me. Like, I was so out of it. [And] the only reason I knew it was North Carolina [playing] is ‘cause I know them colors. I just turned to it, but [I was] really in a daze, I’m really not paying attention. And [at that point] I’m like, “Yo, I’m done. I’m a dead man walking right now,” and I just wanted to give up. It wasn’t until the hospital told me that I needed to do hemodialysis [that I started to come out of that depression]. So now that I’m doing hemo, I’m leaving the house now for like 3, 4 hours a day, and I’m better off now. And the days that I didn’t go in, I had my days to myself. So slowly but surely I’m getting my life back. So those days off I’m going to the basketball games, I’m chillin’, I’m doing me. I’m having a little bit more fun with my son, ‘cause my [stepson] was playing AAU basketball. I’m coaching him, it’s all good. [And] I’m reaching out to my dad and everybody, and making sure everybody is good. And they could hear it in my voice that I’m much better. So, that’s when I started turning a corner. But those months [from October ’06 to May ‘07] were the months from hell. Like, I thought it was over.
DX: Damn… And from what I understand you were diagnosed [with diabetes all the way back] around People's Instinctive Travels and Paths of Rhythm…
Phife Dawg: Yeah, May of 1990, like a month after our debut came out. And you know being on the road like that you pretty much go hard - you don’t have no chef, you’re hitting up KFC, you’re hitting up McDonalds. And eventually it took a toll on me. And being diabetic is hereditary, on my mother’s side. [But] even with that I still was eating what I wanted to eat, and I was just making all the wrong decisions as far as that went [for several years]. It’s a shame I had to go through what I went through to be on point right now, but, everybody has they moment of truth.
DX: …I know a lot of heads don’t wanna talk about all this medical shit, but it does seem like over the past few years there have been more and more Hip Hop artists having to deal with serious medical issues, Guru just being the latest.
Phife Dawg: …It just shows that we’re human, just like everybody else.
DX: Any thoughts…any personal stories [about] Guru…?
Phife Dawg: …Gang Starr was like one of the first groups that I met after we signed the deal [for A Tribe Called Quest with Jive Records]. Because, we had to perform at the New Music Seminar in New York City back in like ’89 I think it was, and Gang Starr had a show at this one spot, so we went to the spot to check out the show and I met Guru and [DJ Premier] there. And they were like the coolest guys on earth. So, I figured after meeting them, [and] they were so cool, I figured like all rappers were just cool like that… You know how everybody associates Tribe and Gang Starr with Jazz? [They were like] really cool Jazz dudes, but it was in a Hip Hop form. And I just thought all rappers would be cool like that, or should be cool like that… And then another time, I remember going to D.C. [in 1998] to do the Tibetan Freedom Concert that the Beastie Boys used to put on every summer, and I’m at the airport, getting off the plane, and Guru’s walking in the airport – this is Washington National, [Ronald] Reagan airport. And he’s like, “Yo, whattup Phife?” I’m like, “Yo, whattup, son?” And he’s like, “Yo, I heard y’all was breaking up. I told niggas that was a lie!” And then I looked at him like, “Pshh, I don’t know, kid. That shit might be true, son.” He was like, “Nah, man, stop playing, man…” [And] that’s actually the last time I saw him… I might’ve saw him after that, but I remember that’s the last time we really just stood there and spoke for a little while. So, yeah man, my heart goes out to his family.