[HIP-HOP] For all the controversy surrounding Beats, Rhymes and Life, the recent documentary on legendary rap crew A Tribe Called Quest, perhaps the most stunning revelation in the movie has nothing to do with the group itself: Rapper Malik "Phife Dawg" Taylor, a native New Yorker who in the '90s peppered his lyrics with references to John Starks and the Knicks, is apparently a Lakers fan. But Taylor insists he's not a bandwagoner. "If the Lakers and the Knicks were to play in the NBA Finals, I'd ride with the Knicks," Taylor says over the phone from his home in Oakland, "but I'm also an analyst at heart, and I think the Lakers have a better team."
Taylor is more than happy to clarify his fandom. In fact, you get the sense that if all anyone wanted to discuss with him ever again was basketball, that'd be perfectly fine with him. "Hip-hop is definitely more of a chore than sports," Taylor says. That's a jarring admission for fans to hear. As a member of A Tribe Called Quest, Taylor was part of one of the most beloved acts of rap's golden age. But it's been well over a decade since Tribe's 1998 swan song, The Love Movement, and Taylor's last record was a poorly received solo album 11 years ago. Meanwhile, athletics has truly become a second career for him: He recruits players for a prep school in Connecticut and is developing a television pilot for his Web sports show, The Fanalyst. "The music is still the meat-and-potatoes, no matter what," he says, "but I'm trying to build my résumé."
Watching Beats, Rhymes and Life, it's easy to see why music has fallen into second place for Taylor. It chronicles how the rigors of success drew him and his childhood friend Fareed apart, the schism boiling over into a series of heated arguments during a 2008 reunion tour. Although Kamaal Tribe's "Q-Tip" Fareed refused to endorse the film, Taylor says the documentary has helped heal their rift somewhat (they talk on the phone, usually about the New York Jets). When it comes to possibly working on new Tribe material together, however, "we are as far away from that as possible," he adds.
But that doesn't mean Taylor is done with hip-hop for good. He's currently searching for a distribution deal for Songs in the Key of Phife, the long-delayed follow-up to 2000's disappointing Ventilation. Taylor is still driven to cement his individual legacy as an artist, and thinks this is the album to do that.
"I don't feel like I've accomplished anything by myself yet," he says. "I feel like I have something to prove as a soloist, because they really don't see me coming."
SEE IT: Phife plays the Crown Room on Saturday, Aug. 13, with the Love Loungers. 9:30 pm. $10. 21+.