How A Tribe Called Quest's Jarobi White Does Breakfast
"Q-Tip's a pancake guy"
F or over a quarter of a century, Jarobi White has been A Tribe Called Quest's "mystic man." A founding member of the New York City hip-hop troupe, alongside Q-Tip, the late MC Phife Dog and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, White's voice can be heard introducing the group members on Tribe's 1990 debut, People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm. But after the album's release, he promptly disappeared, only to reveal that he'd branched off and decided to pursue a career as a chef. (His Instagram bio affectionately jokes that he's a "hip-hop trivia answer.") Now White's firmly back in Tribe's ranks. The group's latest and final album, We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service, showcases White taking on mic duties with gusto. White's presence is particularly felt in the wake of Phife Dog’s death earlier this year—a tragedy that means the album plays out as both a triumphant reunion of one of hip-hop's most beloved groups and an emotional goodbye to fans.
White took time out from running his culinary company, Eats, Rhymes & Life to talk about Tribe's breakfasting habits, taking the fictional character Bonita Applebum out for a brunch date, and the science of Egg McMuffins.
Extra Crispy: What do you have for breakfast on an average day?
Jarobi White: I usually eat breakfast at home, because right now I'm on a specific diet. Normally, it will probably be three egg whites, two eggs, and maybe some sautéed vegetables, like some spinach. I just want to lose weight and get in better shape, especially after the passing of Phife from diabetes. I really want to stay on top of that.
If you were cooking brunch for the rest of A Tribe Called Quest, what would you serve each member?For Q-Tip I would either make oatmeal or something like pancakes with some fruit in there because he loves pancakes. Q-Tip's a pancake guy.
What about Ali Shaheed Muhammad?
It's funny because it would be pancakes for Ali too. When we were young, Ali used to make us pancakes from scratch. When we were little kids we used to like pancakes a lot. Yeah, Ali would get pancakes too.
Were Ali's pancakes any good?
Absolutely, they were perfect home-cooked pancakes. Not better than mine of course.
Busta Rhymes also features heavily on the new Tribe album. What would you make him for breakfast?
Oh my gosh, it would be like a whole leg of a cow or something! I'd make him an omelette filled with cheese and vegetables and probably like half a pack of turkey bacon and then some fruit on the side. Busta has quite the appetite. He's a big guy—you need a lot to fuel that big guy.
What did Phife used to enjoy for breakfast?
Phife was always about cereal and Pop-Tarts and waffles. He definitely had a sweet tooth. For the cereal, it was all the sweet ones, like I remember Cap'n Crunch he used to have all the time, Golden Grahams he used to have all the time, Honey Nut Cheerios, and mad Pop-Tarts.
Back in the '80s when Tribe began, what did you guys used to get for breakfast before hitting the studio?
Oh,wow, back in those days it might have been an egg and cheese sandwich from the corner—New York is infamous for egg and cheese on a roll. I'd probably get that or probably stop in McDonald's and get an Egg McMuffin. Man, I used to love those. I think because it's portable and it's just the English muffin. I used to be a really big English muffin fan. Oh, and the egg—like the fake egg—I don't know what it was about it, but that yolk, I used to love it and, ooh, the cheese. That was good.
Are you still a fan of the McDonald's breakfast menu?
I haven't stepped in McDonald’s for so long, I have no idea what's going on. But let me tell you though, I have eaten the McGriddle sandwich. It's like a pancake but it has the syrup in the pancake—they made a sandwich out of that and it's fantastic. It's like when you get a bite of breakfast and you get a forkful of egg, a forkful of sausage, and you put it on one forkful all at the same time and you have that perfect bite. It's like that but in a sandwich.
Bonita Applebum is a character in one of Tribe's most famous songs. Where would you take her for a brunch date?
Ah, man, right now for Bonita I'd have to pull out all the stops and take her for a Four Seasons brunch because I'd definitely be trying to impress her and I could show off my culinary skills and show her what all the things are, 'cause I'm sure she's never seen capers or caviar before. I'd go ahead and show off in front of Bonita. I'd definitely pick up the check for Bonita.
When you're cooking at home, what sort of music do you usually listen to?
When I cook breakfast at home I'll probably put on either some jazz or some blues. Right now, definitely Billie Holiday and [John] Coltrane are on my breakfast cooking list.
As a chef, what's the most annoying thing people ask for when it comes to the breakfast menu?
The thing that annoys me mostly is people asking me to overcook their food, you know what I mean? People might ask for their scrambled eggs hard or a well-done omelette but that's not how it's supposed to be eaten. It doesn't taste well like that and that's really annoying for me. Having to put it out and knowing it's not good, you know what I mean? But it's what they want so ultimately I have to give them what they want.
Have you had any really crazy breakfast requests?
No, because I don't think anything's really crazy because I probably eat breakfast a little crazier than everybody else. My breakfast a lot of times consists of whatever I ate the night before with an egg on top of it.
Do you ever have lyrics pop into your head while you're cooking and end up using them in a song later?
All of the time. Chef's carry a notepad around with them—like just a little small one—and when I was a chef my notepad would be filled with recipes and rhymes.
Recipes and Rhymes would be a great name for an album.
Absolutely! I'll give you a piece of that one.