Me, myself, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad vs. Maseo (Exclusive) [Interview]
Calgary, AB — Ali Shaheed Muhammad (A Tribe Called Quest) and Maseo (De La Soul) made a stop in Calgary on July 24 during their Ali Shaheed Muhammad vs. Maseo Tour. Just after 7 p.m., the duo showed up at Commonwealth Bar & Stage for their sound check. Maseo stepped outside for a quick blunt-break with his newly acquired B.C. bud (De La Soul had performed in Vancouver the previous evening). After his puff session and a quick chat about his lyrically-gifted daughter — she’s quite the songstress, apparently — Maseo headed back inside to warm up the turntables with Ali.
Our HipHopCanada prairies team — Sarah Sussman and Sarosh Rizvi — sat down with the two legendary DJs after the sound check to chop it up about Ali and Maseo’s infallible onstage chemistry, the current state of hip-hop, the controversial Tribe documentary (Beats, Rhymes Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest), and more. Check out our exclusive interview after the jump.
Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Maseo: Q&A
Interview conducted by Sarosh Rizvi and Sarah Sussman for HipHopCanada
Sarah Sussman: I’m Sarah.
Maseo: Hi, Sarah.
Sarah Sussman: And I’m sitting here with Maseo and Ali Shaheed Muhammad for HipHopCanada.
Sarosh Rizvi: I’m Sarosh. Welcome guys. Welcome to the city.
Maseo: Thank you.
Sarah Sussman: You guys are here on your tour. I’m wondering if you could tell HipHopCanada how you guys first met.
Maseo: I met Ali in 1989. Queensday?
Ali Shaheed Muhammad: Yeah.
Maseo: Yeah, it was Queensday. I met X Clan the same day. [laughs] But it was in anticipation on meeting A Tribe Called Quest, ‘cause we were already doing a few shows with the Jungle Brothers. And it was a lot of talk about Q-Tip and Ali and Phife and everything that was going on with everything that we all were pretty much doing: sharing like-minds and different places in our lives. So it was a very, very exciting day. We had a dope show. We met for the first time. We arrived at our dreams, you know?
Ali Shaheed Muhammad: It was pretty exciting, you know. De La had a nice little hot record out on the charts at the time: “Plug Tunin’”. It was kind of like roasting up the New York City airwaves. And the Jungle Brothers had, also, their success with the first album: Straight Out the Jungle. So we were just really geeked and excited to watch them do their thing and know that we were kind of next. Up-and-coming. So it was a good experience.
Sarosh Rizvi: So through the years, as both acts grew. Was there kind of like a sibling rivalry-type dynamic that developed?
Ali Shaheed Muhammad: I think, somewhat. You know, we were listening to what De La was working on and we were pretty excited. And we had the whole little “Knee Deep” thing that was, like, on the Tribe’s demo. But we heard what De La was doing. And you know, oh my god, they came with the smash “Me, Myself and I”. We was like, “Oh damn.”
Sarah Sussman: Like, step it up.
Ali Shaheed Muhammad: Yeah. We didn’t see that coming. So, yeah. We had to step it up.
Maseo: It was definitely a lot of friendly competition. I think that’s the era we groomed from. It’s something that needed to exist to make everyone better. One thing we did share is trying to make everyone better. Those were the days, man. It was fun. A lot of fun. A lot of it still exists today. We’re just middle-aged men. [laughs]
Sarah Sussman: So obviously you guys came to fame during the golden era of hip-hop. How do you think hip-hop today, kind of is, by comparison?
Maseo: There is no comparison. There’s definitely no comparison. I think as far as becoming successful, being a professional at all of this, being considered a celebrity, a legend, or all of that. I think none of us could of have fathomed this. I couldn’t think past “Plug Tunin’”. And personally, that was all of the success I pretty much kind of needed at that time. It was just a blessing that it did transcend the way it did and turned out to be a successful career. But I think it was a nerve-wracking feeling for all of us. We all had another plan in mind. But the love and the thirst, and the overall addiction for hip-hop was at an all-time high in that era. And nowadays, it’s just truly an addiction to being known: A celebrity — being a part of the upper echelon. Not so much about the creative process of what it takes to get there. It’s more about the business.
Ali Shaheed Muhammad: Yeah, I pretty much agree with what Maseo said. It’s just a different time-period. You know, when we came we were living through the crack era—the drug era— of America, and the oppression of the young black youth. I mean it’s still the oppression. You think about cities like Chicago and how kids are dying, and stuff like that. But it was definitely a different time period. In this era, kids are a lot more technologically-advanced. They know a lot more, you know? So you can’t really compare the two time periods.
Sarosh Rizvi: So how about for you guys’ style—your own style, your own evolution as artists over the almost 25 years now for you guys. How has your own style changed?
Ali Shaheed Muhammad: Good question. It’s hard to say. It’s just always still exciting to look and discover new music. You know, looking for that hot song that’s played in the club or looking for that next song that’ll inspire you in the studio. Like, that vibe is still there. And I still get charged and amped. So I mean there’s—in terms of sound— yeah, a little bit of innovations. But not so much. Not a lot for me.
Maseo: I don’t do style change much. If anything, style hasn’t changed much but we—as people— may have changed. I’m not the same 19-year-old kid that I was on 3 Feet High and Rising. There’s no way I can capture that essence ever again, you know? But all I can do is add on, you know? And I think that’s what’s been the cycle— as you grow, you’re just adding on to what you’ve done and what you do. Because who I am on the music, that’s naturally who I am so no one else can be me but me. For the most part. So I think that’s what signatures it being your own style, and your style not changing. I think if anything, we’ve just evolved because we evolved as men.
Sarah Sussman: So moving on to your tour, here. What kind of prompted you guys to team up for this tour?
Maseo: I mean, it’s been long overdue. There’s always been various moments we’ve DJed together because somebody had booked us. And we get this moment like, “Why we not doing this?” Right after doing Queensday it was like Hotel Amazon, and every other spot in Manhattan every week. With Sammy B and DJ Red Alert, somewhere. So this has been our lives since kids. It’s been fun every time, you know. And it’s been therapeutic. [laughs]
Sarah Sussman: How so? How so?
Maseo: [laughs] That’s it. Personal inside joke. It’s an inside joke. [laughs]
Sarah Sussman: How’s it been for you? Therapeutic?
Ali Shaheed Muhammad: It’s always just great to see Mase. It’s like, you know. It’s just as soon as I see his face, you know. And that smile. It’s just like, you hear that voice and it’s just like—yo it’s like home. It’s always good to build with this brother. Yeah.
Sarosh Rizvi: So is it ever a struggle to keep it fresh? Or is it just like, you guys get together and it’s like back in the day, and it’s easy?
Ali Shaheed Muhammad: Like he said, we still DJ constantly. So, just, it was like a, “Oh. Duh. We should be doing this together” moment. If anything, it’s just exciting. Well it seems like we get off more than the crowd does, a little bit. And the crowd definitely gets off. But we just, it’s like inside.
Maseo: It’s insane that we get paid to do this. [laughs]
Ali Shaheed Muhammad: Yeah. We really enjoy—we enjoy it.
Maseo: No, we just enjoy it. And I think it resonates, you know. I think that’s why the audience really has a good time. ‘Cause when I seen some clips of us DJing, I’m bugging out on what I see between us. And we’re not paying attention to anyone. We really just…
Sarah Sussman: Just the two of you?
Maseo: Yeah, just the two of us. And, yo, he don’t drink, nor smoke, or nothing. So you would think he did, the way we’re bugging out with the music. But he’s truly high off the music. Just as much as I am. That’s my brother. Like, we share this love and the music and the tunes and sparking one another and sparking the audience at the same time. I think throughout the years of developing what we have, you know, the performance part becomes a natural thing to us that we’re somewhat cognizant of that. But we’re really into each other, you know? I’m really performing for him, and vice versa. Like, the majority of shows, he’s playing a De La set and I’m playing a Tribe set, you know. So that’s cool shit. [laughs]
Sarosh Rizvi: So that’s the friendly competition we talked about earlier. Are you trying to one-up each other on stage?
Maseo: When we go record-for-record, I think that’s where the friendly competition comes in. The admiration is when we’re playing each other’s music. ‘Cause I love him, you know? And I love what they do.
Sarah Sussman: So are there any songs or tracks that you guys won’t bump at all, when you’re doing your sets?
Maseo: If I don’t like it, it don’t even really come to mind. You know what I mean? If you’re referring to a lot of the new stuff that’s out there, I like a lot of the new stuff too. I have my records I like and there’s ones I don’t like. The ones I like, I play. And if you’re referring to artists like Drake and cats like that, I like his music. There’s songs of his that I play. I really liked the one—the tribute to Mac Dre— that was called “Motto”. That was hot.
Ali Shaheed Muhammad: Same.
Sarah Sussman: [laughs] Ditto?
Ali Shaheed Muhammad: Ditto.
Sarosh Rizvi: I wanted to ask about the Tribe documentary. Like, I’ve heard you speak on it a couple of times. I was wondering if I could get your opinion too. What’re your thoughts on it? Did you agree with it, as far as what it was and as far as the process? And just what’s your overall reaction to it?
Ali Shaheed Muhammad: I’m really happy that the movie was made—the documentary about the time period where the Native Tongues all met up, and stuff like that. I think that bit of history was known for people who came up in that era. But for people who have been discovering Tribe and Native Tongues, in the past maybe 10 or 12 years, didn’t know the story. And they weren’t able to live that part. So I think it was great that it was captured. It was a moment in time. And I think in terms of how far hip-hop has come, it’s come a long way. And I’m just pretty honoured that a piece of my life was captured. Not just my life, but the entire movement was captured in that light. And this will forever be part of history. So it’s a good thing.
Maseo: I just feel honoured to be a part, knowing that we’ve been a significant part of one another’s lives. Our relationship over the music is beyond the music. And I think that’s what the world got to capture. And the overall essence—you got to see what lent to Tribe’s genius, to what makes their music good and bad. But the overall love for everybody that you see, genuinely, you know. It humanized the group in a lot of ways. And maybe even answered a lot of questions to the fans who felt that void of what happened to one of their favourite rap groups. And it made the group much bigger. [laughs] Even bigger, by it being so human. So, I thought it was good work, man. It was good work. It ended up being tastefully tasteful, at the end of the day.
Ali Shaheed Muhammad: Good answer.
Sarah Sussman: A-plus.
Ali Shaheed Muhammad: He kept it real and honest. [laughs]
Sarah Sussman: So are we going to see a little Maseo and Ali documentary coming out soon? Maybe?
Maseo: I don’t know. I mean, who knows? It might be possible. I mean, we’re in the world of technology…
Sarah Sussman: He’s like, no. He’s like, no.
Maseo: Who knows? I mean, at the end of the day, you see things documented. But not no documentary. Like, this sit down, tell-all—I don’t think there’s a story like that. That’s my brother. Our world is private. What we share is what we share. You know, I think what you’re going to get if you see some stuff documented is us being the performers that we are. Like, let’s focus on the music. Let’s focus on a good time. Maseo’s going to crack a lot of jokes. I’m ‘a bug out. You know what I’m saying? If anything, you’re going to catch the documented things that are entertaining. All of this sitting-on-the-couch-with-Barbara Walters-shit’s gotta’ stop. [laughs]
Sarah Sussman: I’m taking that as a compliment.
Ali Shaheed Muhammad: I’m done documenting. Closed book session, you know what I mean? Closed door session. I think people understand enough of my character to get that I am a bit stoic. I keep it internal. The rest? It’s not for everybody to see. We are ambassadors to the world. We use music to talk to the world—to try to unite masses. To try to spark conversations. To try and evoke legislation to change that’ll really be for the people. That’s behind-the-scenes kind of thing for me. And that’s what the music is for me.
Interview conducted by Sarosh Rizvi and Sarah Sussman for HipHopCanada
Photography by Sarah Sussman for HipHopCanada