My choices were either go to a meaningless anthropology class or skip it and interview one of my heroes. That is to say, there was no choice at all.
I don’t remember the name of the professor who taught that class. I would not recognize any other student who attended that class with me if they were all right in front of me right now. I don’t even remember the grade I received. I, however, will never forget the time I got to interview Phife Dawg as a college sophomore around 2000.
I was an English major at a state school in the South, eight hours away from home. More often than not, I was homesick. I felt lonely and adrift, with few friends to support me. When I wasn’t studying or working, I spent most of my free time writing about or listening to music. It was the only thing that made me happy.
Before heading to school, I had connected with an older co-worker at my summer job who ran UrbanFlavorz, an email newsletter with over 15,000 subscribers at the time. Half of our days together at work were spent with him quizzing me and testing my hip-hop knowledge. After passing enough of his tests he found out my interest in writing and put me to work for his newsletter interviewing local hip-hop acts and writing album reviews. While other people spent their freshman year partying and enjoying, in most cases, their first tastes of freedom, I mostly kept my nose in a book and my ears warmed by headphones.
Time passed, and things got a little better for me. I made more friends, went out more on the weekends, and when I was back at school I found myself spending less time writing and more time just being a college kid. As my output decreased, my friend back home’s profile got a little bigger and he began to connect with publicists and managers of acts who were known outside of the DMV. One day I was surfing the vastly inferior version of what we call the Internet, when I checked my Hotmail account (!!!) and saw the email from my friend, detailing the opportunity to interview Phife Dawg.
All of my dreams of writing for The Source and Rap Pages flooded back into my mind. I’d interviewed small local acts before, but this was Phife from Tribe! I remember losing my mind when the somber, black and white, video for “Jazz” transitioned into a technicolor Phife stealing the show with his verse for “Buggin’ Out.” I remember falling hard to the wooden floor of Crystal Skate Palace trying to keep up with the urgent drums of “Award Tour” when I heard it for the first time. My rented skates, seemingly in tune with my emotions, weaved out of control as I simply could not believe what I was hearing. A key part of creating those indelible memories was going to call me the next day.