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Q-Tip: Labor of Love

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    Kamaal is in fact abstract. Not to the point where he’s engulfed by the multiple pre-requisites (and stigmas) attached to the duty of being an MC of substance. After all, he was a “vivrant vivarant” at one time and has a penchant for tequila shots and cursing. But the Renaissance Man known as Q-Tip lost his entire record collection to a house fire, had his only scene in a movie cut, fell victim to the label musical chairs game, and is still smiling. He should be, as one of his three long awaited albums, Renaissance, will reach our ears by the end of the year. If his dukes stay up long enough, he’ll win the battle for Kamaal the Abstract and Open as well. We can only hope. Until then, the Tribe trailblazer is crafting beats for himself, Wu-Tang, the Children Rebel Soldier project, and perhaps Common. When Tip’s live band isn’t inspiring him, his dreams of a family are. Every now and then he’ll even take a nap. So what’s it take to walk a mile in a legend’s shoes? Lose the attitude and barley, and he’ll tell you…AllHipHop.com: I know in the past you struggled with the concept of the

“Alternative Hip-Hop” title. Do you feel that after almost two decades,

we’ve gotten past that at all?

Q-Tip: [Sighs] No, because those executives are still executives,

[laughs] who come up with those phrases. So until they’re gone – you

would think that the people who commandeer these positions in these

records companies have to be somewhat of a people person and deal with

so many genres and the cross-collateralization of music would not be so

one-dimensional in their appraisals of this s**t. They come up with the

same terms. Just yesterday I had this meeting, and the executives said

“this backpack s**t.” I’m like, “Dude! Okay, I may still rock a

backpack here and there, but what the f**k does that mean? I can’t do

a tequila shot? Do I have to like eat barley and read The Isis Papers and burn frankincense and myrrh and give the salaam?”

I’m tellin’ everybody out there right now…if you walk up to me in the

street and disrespect me, I’m not gonna walk away and be like, “I’m

sorry brother. I will pray for you.” If you put your hands on me, I’m

gonna try to knock you the f**k out! [Laughs] That’s just what it is.

I’m just a regular person. The categories and all of that stuff, they

could be damaging. We should try to steer clear of those things. It

even works against me sometimes, because if I do something that doesn’t

sound “Tribe-ish” or when I said “vivrant thing, vivrant thing”

the people are like, “Dude that’s so not Tribe; so uncool.”

Dude…reinventing. Especially in Hip-Hop, because it’s harder for Black

folks to accept reinvention and accept growth, I think. I’m speaking

from the inside in, obviously. When I look at people like Bowie or

Madonna, they’re allowed the freedom to reinvent and still grow. I

think just now we’re starting to be that, but for a long period of

time, the categories have almost been like shackles. We have to free

ourselves of all of that stuff.AllHipHop.com: I heard a lot of Kamaal the Abstract, and it was crazy. What were the issues behind the release of that and Open?Q-Tip: To put it in short, when we did Kamaal the Abstract at Arista, they were gonna roll it out. We sent it out to press, and it was getting a great response. It was looking good, and then L.A. Reid kind of got cold feet, and it didn’t happen. I got a release, and I went to Dreamworks and recorded a new album that was dope. Then Dreamworks folded; it got bought out by its parent company, which was Interscope/Universal. So, they got cherry-picked, I went to Interscope. I spent like a one-night stand with Jimmy Iovine. [Laughs] We had like one little conversation, then he got rid of me and I went over to Polly Anthony who was at Geffen at the time. I stayed there for like a year and a half. [Polly is a] sweet lady, but nothing really happened [with the album]. Then I ended up at Slowtown [Motown], and ya know, here it is. AllHipHop.com: It seems as though the majors cause a lot of heartache for any artist who wants to man his own career or control his own destiny in this industry.  Q-Tip: That’s true, but then again it isn’t. You’ve got to figure out how you could maneuver it and work what’s in it if that’s your play. There’s two options: you either play with [major labels] or you totally, totally, totally play it your way. If you do it that way, it may take longer, but the payoff is much sweeter because you’re kinda in control of your own path. Right now, I’m honestly in between both. I’m kind of doing more of the latter than the former, but the system over [at Motown] is so…I don’t know; it’s weird to kind of navigate over there, so you have to get in and roll up your sleeves and do some of that work for them, ya know? But, it’s good. I’m encouraged by my music and where I’m at creatively, and I like what I hear that’s going on. There’s some things that’s happening in the business by my contemporaries that I’m encouraged by, so I feel good about it.AllHipHop.com: In the event that you receive the rights to those two albums, how will that work in conjunction with the release of Renaissance?Q-Tip: The thing about Open is that I’ve included some of those songs – not all of them – on Renaissance. It’s kind of an amalgam of that and some other things that I’ve been tweaking. [Renaissance] is still a continuation of [Kamaal] the Abstract, which is the whole band concept, and the whole live music idea. Not like a traditional acoustic band – it’s still my samples in the sounds and stuff like that, that still identify it as Hip-Hop to me. It’s still edgier, but it has the musicality as a functioning band. I go in with [the band] and we write s**t, we jam, come up with s**t, we write s**t up, I sample s**t, I chop it up. It’s good, so what we would do is put this album out, and hopefully get the rights to Kamaal the Abstract and release that on our own.AllHipHop.com: How does it feel to creatively be that one-man show in terms of producing and writing, and rhyming? How do you balance all that out?Q-Tip: Man, I wish I had more hours in the day, because there’s so much I wanna do. I’m studying theory, I play the piano, I wanna score. We wanna hit the road. I already have plans for the next album after Renaissance. I wanna do a movie to go with the album, a la Pink Floyd’s The Wall, so I have to start working on that now and get a list of some directors. It’s a lot. I like to shoot for the stars and hopefully land on the moon. AllHipHop.com: You’re also continuing your acting career, right, in a movie with Nicole Kidman? Q-Tip: Oh, well…there was a problem with that. [Laughs] I did that movie; it was great. Then the director got fired. They re-shot it, and there was three other main parts that got cut, and of course the rapper gets hacked. I’m a cutting room floor casualty. Hey, but it happens to everybody. It happened to [Robert] DeNiro, not to compare myself to him. It happens to everybody, so it was just my turn. It’s all good, because I can’t tell you how optimistic I am for things to come. I’m not discouraged by that at all.AllHipHop.com: Are you currently reading any other scripts?Q-Tip: Yeah I’m looking at a couple of scripts I am looking at that are interesting actually. We’ve gotta wait and see. It’s the Hollywood thing…hurry up and wait. AllHipHop.com: You were one of the first to come out and discuss the story behind the blood diamonds in Sierra Leone. Are you happy that people caught on and things have changed now?Q-Tip: Yeah, yeah it’s good. I think the majority of diamonds out there now are good diamonds and the war’s been over some years now, so it ‘s a good thing. But, I think it’s important that it’s a study, so that we can see how corruption through any sort of corporate means could affect and touch the laymen, you know what I mean? I think it’s important that we see that and stay cognizant of things that seem “luxurious.” I wouldn’t trade children’s blood for diamonds any day. AllHipHop.com: Do you see more Hip-Hop artists becoming more aware? I mean, Mike Jones seems to be even wearing his grills a lot less. Q-Tip: You know what? I’m such a fan and proponent of Hip-Hop, because it’s of the last artistic forms left for freedom, and like existing on your own terms. It’s good like that. I like the fact that Chamillionaire doesn’t curse on any of his records. I wish that I could do that, but I have kind of a foul mouth. I like that he’s not afraid to do that. I like that Andre [3000] is not afraid to wear a kilt. It’s cool that dudes can be who they wanna be. I definitely have my little quirks and my glitches in my system. It’s good that people are able to express themselves.AllHipHop.com: What is it that keeps you so humble in the midst of your career?Q-Tip: I was just raised to be that way. I’m an artist, I don’t get off on being – in Hip-Hop, when you kick rhymes you talk about yourself. It’s par for the course. I do that, because that’s just how I was brought up. I came up a battle MC, and in battling you have to keep yourself up over everyone else. But when I go to sleep, I know humility is the play, and that’s just who I am a person. I don’t take this s**t that seriously. I take my work seriously, and I believe in what I do, but I’m appreciative and thankful that I’m an artist and a musician and I do Hip-Hop. I don’t disregard, but I know that there’s more to life. I have a family, there’s a world. I’d like to have an immediate family, children, a wife. Those things empower what you do and are fodder for your creativity, and I know that you can be the brightest star, but the brightest star burns out the quickest. If you’re the brightest star, then you’re talking about how you’re the freshest and you’re ill in your raps, and when the mic is off, you’re in interviews just carrying yourself like a dick and you have no humility, then you have no good will. So when your s**t burns out just like every human being, you have the outstretched hand looking for somebody. It just stings you. So yeah, it doesn’t pay to be an a**hole. That’s why I’m not a braggadocios a**hole. AllHipHop.com: Before discussing your deejaying, how has the rebuilding of your record collection been going?Q-Tip: It’s good, I mean it probably won’t be what it was, but it’s there. I’m just grateful that I got out alive. I think I’m gonna write a book about the crazy s**t during that period. I’m cool though building it.AllHipHop.com: I’m sure this has been asked a million times, but how did that feel?Q-Tip: [sighs] It was crazy to be in [the burning home]. Like, what do you do? You have to get out. All of your valuables – your life is more valuable. Fire is kind of good; symbolically, it purges you. It wasn’t good when that s**t happened I tell you that much, If I had to replay it…f**k that. You try to find the silver lining. In doing so, it forced me to do it all again. And here I am. AllHipHop.com: I’ve been to quite a few of your deejaying events, and you have such an amazing control over the crowd. For you as both an MC and a DJ, which gets you more amped nowadays – deejaying or performing?Q-Tip: Performing. I mean I love deejaying, because it makes me a hands-on band. I listen to everything that’s out; you just have to, and I’ve deejayed all different types of parties. It’s good to know the lay of the land and how people react to certain things. The part I like the most is when you play what you wanna play and the crowd is into. You’re like, “Oh s**t! I’m playing this old school mix and people are feeling it and dancing.” But when you’re performing your s**t that you’ve written and people are rhyming [along] with you. It’s not even about you. It’s some out of body s**t…at least for me. AllHipHop.com: With regard to your production, do you have any upcoming projects where you’re producing for other artists?Q-Tip: Yeah I’m working on the Wu-Tang album. I’m working on the Child Rebel Soldiers album – that’s Kanye, Lupe, and Pharell. I’ve got some joints going on there. Just trying to do [Renaissance] and get the concepts together for the next album. Also, I’ve been talking to Common about doing an album. It’s just in the conversation [stages], but we’re working on doing that. AllHipHop.com: So when do you sleep exactly?Q-Tip: [Laughs] I realize the importance of it, so I force myself to sleep. A few years back, I wouldn’t really sleep, but that’s not good. You’ve got to get some rest. AllHipHop.com: Who do you see today as the artists carrying the torch for Tribe’s legacy?Q-Tip: I definitely think Kanye, Common, Lupe, those guys are carrying that. I think The Roots are good at what they do. I think D’Angelo embodies a lot of what we tried to do, as well as Erykah [Badu]. It’s good to see people like Chrisette Michele come up who are newer and embody that. It feels good when you know you were able to craft something that people go back to. I’m really, really, humbled by that.AllHipHop.com: I remember when Kidz In the Hall first came out, there was a strong Tribe comparison because of the content of their music. Do you feel that whenever an MC actually has something to say, there’s automatically a Tribe comparison?Q-Tip: [Laughs] Yeah, that is kinda funny. I think it may be unfair to those artists. Where at one point, it is flattering, but that is true. I think there are some artists that come out like that, that don’t necessarily reflect [Tribe’s] aesthetic, but there are a few artists that come out and you can feel the Tribe influence. It’s just nice, because I remember doing it with the other guys, and it was our own world. It was inside jokes, inside topics, and everybody kind of got it. You still get surprised by that…just to see some 15-20 years later, people are still taking to us. I can’t tell you how rewarding and flattering that is…and encouraging still. It’s a good thing.

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