How many of 2000’s releases stay in your car? While KRS was certainly right when he denied the criticism that Hip-Hop was a phase, how many of our Rap records are timeless? With all the money invested, how much are artists investing their souls in a project? And with so little room left on the couch for rappers these days, what unfamiliar artist is worth supporting?
Like Jadakiss, I can’t answer my questions easily. But in my own beliefs, Q-Unique and his solo debut is the cut from a cloth too jagged for many rappers to touch. Rooted in the birthplace of Hip-Hop, associated with the most elite groups, suffering the most unimaginable pains, evem enduring homelessness, Q-Unique presents his story.
In the first interview concerning his solo music, Q-Unique and AllHipHop discuss his past life with the Arsonists, as well as how much this album determines his future. Backed by Non-Phixion’s Ill Bill, and with Beatnuts, Necro, and self-production, the record speaks for itself. But if you need some incentive first, listen to the story of a true Hip-Hop hero.
AllHipHop.com: The record’s called Vengeance is Mine. The tracks are fierce and chilling. But bro, you’ve got a massive press kit. You’re coming like you’ve got something to prove. What prompted this?
Q: As dope as it might seem, that’s only a quarter of my press kit. It’s actually like the size of a dictionary. It’s not to brag, it’s just to show, I’ve been doing work. Thing is, to this day, I’ve still gotta convince people in order from them to listen to one song. After a while, it just becomes so tedious. People still give me a very difficult time with things. One day I was sitting with [Ill Bill] in the studio, and I was reading this Donald Trump article. In it, he said, “Revenge is good.” He cosigned it. If this motherf***er can cosign it, I’m with it.
AllHipHop.com: But because the market’s so fickle right now, isn’t that just the reality for any MC?
Q: It’s a strong reality. It’s split because on one hand, you can have this money or you can have skills and convince people to buy your s**t. That’s the way it is. Unfortunately, me and my camp, we fall under the category of having skills, but being a little broke. Because I can’t present the package to the consumer with me in a video, at the VMA’s, so I have to go around the other way, and be a salesman. When I was at the Warped Tour, I’d hop on stage and rap like a f***in’ demon, get off stage, and convince people to wanna buy my stuff. It’s tedious.
AllHipHop.com: I was talking to Masta Ace about vulnerability. It’s rare. Throughout this record, you admit your flaws. Being a dude whose down with Rocksteady, and a purist, is it hard to shift from that classic bravado, to revealing embarrassing stuff?
Q: That’s a good question because when Ill Bill approached me about doing this album, he said, “You’re gonna have to get away from this whole Arsonists thing you created, and you cannot be what The Arsonists were. You cannot be some battle-cat coming on with witty rhymes and quirky songs. You’re gonna have to be [the guy I know]. If I don’t hear Q-Unique the scumbag, the pervert, the tortured soul, the sarcastic f***in’ a**hole, I don’t care to hear it.” Because he knew me behind the scenes. He and I worked at Fat Beats together for many years. So like you said, I felt real vulnerable. I never felt like tellin’ people my story. People gonna look at me [differently]. As I told Bill my life-story, he [reacted hugely]. A lot of things, he couldn’t imagine. Yo, this is real! He said, “This is the album, this has to go.”
AllHipHop.com: You told Bill your story before anything was done?
Q: Yeah, he wanted to know. Just in conversation. We were going back and forth. But as you said, as an MC from back in the day, everything was about being the best. We never thought about exposing. But what was interesting, it became like therapy, bro. I started confronting demons that were locked. It was good. It was bugged out.
AllHipHop.com: DJ J. Period told me about your collection of Big Daddy Kane records. I know you loaned him a few for his mix. It’s interesting to meet a guy who is making an unconventional Rap record, but is drenched in Hip-Hop history.
Q: I don’t want people to get the wrong idea. I don’t want people to think of me as an Old School cat. I’m a True School cat. The reality is, I was making demos when Big Daddy Kane’s first album came out. I’ve been rappin’ for a long time, but that’s because I was raised in the Bronx at a time when Rocksteady was at the height of their career. I was blessed, chosen, with a lot of other people, to view it. I used to see pieces on trains on my way to school. The pieces you see in books, I seen those. The Rap records I used to listen to, people have no idea even exist. I got down with Rocksteady, I been a member of Zulu Nation. All of that stuff is part of my foundation, and I hold it dearly. Because of the way people have treated it at times, I don’t wave the flag. Certain people don’t give a s**t. Certain people misinterpret it. I feel like it’s a burden to constantly explain the importance [of these things]. People have seen an Arsonists show, and they’ll write their article as, “the breakdancing rappers,” and they’ll misconstrue what we’re trying to do. We were just trying to give you a good show within the realm of Hip-Hop. I hold it dear to myself. I teach my son through that channel. He’s four years old. He listens to Melle Mel, he has his own Technics. He’ll cut a record, he knows how to break. He knows graffiti. That’s as far as I get.
AllHipHop.com: Wow. I like that “flag” analogy.
Q: I don’t like waving the flag. People ask me to teach classes. I’ve rapped everywhere. The intro on the record’s true. I rapped at Madison Square Garden opening for KRS, I rapped at a Bar-Mitzvah, I rapped on a train in France. I’ve spit wherever I could.
AllHipHop.com: You must really hate, “Advance to go, collect $200” type rappers.
Q: What everybody doin’ now, ain’t Hip-Hop. Hip-Hop was a moment in time to me. I know people gonna hate me for this. But when people mention 50 Cent, they ain’t thinking of breakdance crews. It’s Rap music. Number two, cats got loot to pass me. I could make the most commercial s**t in the world, and it’d be just a waste of time.
AllHipHop.com: “Father’s Day” made my arm-hairs stand up. That’s a deeply potent track. I know it’s a true story, but…
Q: Basically, how that track came about, is that as I was putting the album together, I started uncovering feelings of how I felt as a child. One thing I remembered is that, my father, because of the way he was, he pushed me into a position where I actually plotted to murder him, as a child. Now, when I look at it, I’m like, “Wow, I was really that fearful and disturbed.” The only answer was for me to kill this guy and my life would be free. I didn’t think of no jail, no nothing. I thought of freeing my mother, me, and my brother. It was like slaying a demon or a dragon. After that, other thoughts started coming in. How I used to watch him beat up my mom. How he used to do drugs right in my face, and then tell me, “Choose the right path in life.” That pushed me to the boiling point, I’m gonna kill this motherf***er. That’s it.
AllHipHop.com: The whole album is sequenced very well. You have some nod-factor joints, then the story. Was that the plan?
Q: Yeah, I listened to every cut over and over again and had a feel where they belong. If this was a book of my life, how would I read it? Certain things were put there strategically because they were singles too. It was put together with thought.
AllHipHop.com: It dances between headphone Rap and street and party Rap. A joint like, “One Shot” makes me want to rock. But others, leave you stiff because of lyrical impact.
Q: I wanted to bring to the table, me. I’m a person who listens to Jay-Z and Non-Phixion. It’s in my soul. I had to give that [club] vibe. “One Shot” was intentional, because I love that vibe. But I also like to talk, and be listened to.
AllHipHop.com: I know you get this a lot. I’m sure the readers care to know, is there any future in the Arsonists?
Q: [Laughs]. You know what? I can’t really answer that. All I can say is, we still boys.
AllHipHop.com: You have a track on the record.
Q: Yeah, Swel’s on my album. [Earlier today], I was on the phone with D-Story. Freestyle called me this morning. They all spoke to me. I know fans are like what’s up? It’s a burden when they ask that question. But know what, thank you! I know that those albums, especially, As the World Burns, people love it. I just want people to understand, it’s my turn now. I would just like people to give me that moment – then, we’ll see what’s up.
AllHipHop.com: We talked about fickle markets. We talked about great records. What are you expectations?
Q: I know people around me would like me to say, platinum. Bro, if I go platinum, I’m taking you and your posse to dinner. But realistically, honestly… if I can sell a hundred thousand units and convince people to roll with me for this journey, I can chill. I can move some other things and other desires as a person. This album is very important to me because I’m telling my life story. For somebody like Ill Bill to cosign me, that made it all the more feasible. I just want people to hear a changeup from what they’re used to. I just feel like I’m a different cog in the machine.