Quincy Jones: A Life Less Ordinary Part Two

AHHA: You really witnessed Hip-Hop in its infantile stages.Quincy Jones: Oh yeah, well there’s always been spoken word in Black music. We have a major legacy and heritage and evolution, and the more [Hip-Hop] gets to know where it comes from, the easier it can know where it’s going. We were talking to the kids […]

AHHA: You really witnessed Hip-Hop in its infantile stages.Quincy Jones: Oh yeah, well there’s always been spoken word in Black music. We have a major legacy and heritage and evolution, and the more [Hip-Hop] gets to know where it comes from, the easier it can know where it’s going. We were talking to the kids from Star Camp and they really understand that. They paid their dues too, they had some rough times in their lives. AHHA: Did you have any idea when you were witnessing the birth of Hip-Hop that it had that staying power? Quincy Jones: Oh yeah, always knew it. I’ve been around since ’47 with Bebop. Bebop is so much like Hip-Hop it’s unbelievable. In fact, most of the words [Hip-Hop] uses comes from Bebop and they don’t even know it. Like “homeboy” and “cribs” are you kiddin’? In a way, Bebop started it. They were freestyling and Hip-Hop was always about jammin’ and free forms of improvisation all the time. It is right in the same church as far as I’m concerned. The attitude sociologically was just about the same. Bebop was premature and didn’t have the kind of power – you didn’t have as big a media either to put it all out there. You have the biggest media in the history of the world out now, with online and fiber optics and satellite radio. You didn’t have that back then. We didn’t even have televisions in ’47. It was just radio. Not trying to compare [Bebop and Hip-Hop], but it’s the same sensibility. They have their own colloquialisms, body language, or gestures. The same thing Malcolm X comes out of or Miles Davis. It’s interesting to see it all put together.AHHA: When you were working at Mercury in the ‘60s compared to now, do you see as much passion in the music executives now as opposed to then?Quincy Jones: No. The focus was much more on the sound rather than the businessman back in those days. We were in the process of originating a lot of styles, so people didn’t even know how to make a business out of it. They were trying to discover it, that’s why there was a lot of exploitation going on. People were discovering new genres. Take this one guy for instance, Morris Levy – who started Birdland – here’s a guy who was working with a gangster family, Genovese family. After he had Bop City with Bebop, Charlie Parker, he and Alan Freed copyrighted Rock and Roll a few years later; then they had K.C. and the Sunshine Band with Disco. Each genre, they were at the forefront because the gangsters ran the booking agents and the record companies. Most of them outside of the majors; we had five majors, but the rest of them were all gangsters. Then they came in with Sugar Hill Gang “Rappers Delight.” That’s four genres right there, four major genres from Bebop to Rock and Roll to Disco to Hip-Hop you know? With each, you’d see a step in the evolution right before your eyes. It was very natural for us, because when we started, we didn’t care about the money or the fame. We couldn’t care less.AHHA: What do you think it would take for the labels to get that back?Quincy Jones: Honey, I don’t know if it’s going to get back. We have to do something different. Most people are in denial, acting like nothing’s wrong. There’s something terribly wrong, and it’s not the passion in the music, people love the music. [The labels] are making discriminatory choices, like just one or two songs out of the CD, which is strange because I’ve always been the kind of producer that made a whole experience out of the CD. That’s what’s going on, but the distribution platform is flawed because they’re handing them smoking guns because DVDs and CDs are masters. And binary numbers go back to 3500 B.C. in Egypt, that’s not new, but the application is like putting a smoking gun in the users’ hands because they have all of the technology – they can do anything they want. One generation doesn’t even know we have to pay for music. That’s very dangerous because songwriters, musicians, and producers have to send their kids to school too. We have to figure out how to make it work. I don’t know what it is – advertisements, sponsors? Everybody is trying to figure it out now. They have to figure it out because it’s in trouble…big trouble. I’ve been around the world three times this year from Cambodia to Vietnam to China, Latin America, Cairo, and I see it. Billions of records and intellectual property being taken…movies too. I was outside of the Bejing University, and they were selling DVDs for a dollar a piece. In my speech I said, “You know, one day five years from now, there could be a Ling Hau Chau that could be a Steven Spielberg or a Stevie Wonder and he won’t get paid either.” That’s how it works, there’s both sides and we have to make it a win-win situation. If you take everybody else’s stuff, they’ll take yours. Somehow it always works out, honey. I think there’s probably going to be a change in the revenue, well a shift coming from a different place other than the consumer. I don’t know, that’s the way it looks to me. Nobody really has a solution yet, but everyone’s trying to find it. There’s probably going to be some things we never imagined. We’ll see. I wish I did know the answer.     AHHA:  How do you feel the role of the producer has changed, or evolved since Hip-Hop?Quincy Jones: Honey, I come from the old school with big bands and doing it all acoustically. I went through every phase, from 78 discs, tapes, analogs – you name it –  digital, been through all of it. I think that the more the technology improves, it gives musicians a bigger reason to be lazy about their – I should say – “worship” of music in terms of preparing themselves as great musicians. The technology sometimes doesn’t demand much musicianship. The technology does the work for you. I’d rather take the music from God rather than the electricity, and I was the first one to use the synthesizer and the bass. 1953, you know, without the synth or the bass there would be no Rock and Roll, no Motown, nothing. That’s the way it is. AHHA: Who are some of the producers today that you enjoy?Quincy Jones: Oh a lot of them – Will.I.Am, Akon, Timbaland, and Dr. Dre has always been on top of my list. Pharrell, all those guys dating back to Teddy Riley, Jermaine Dupri, Dallas [Austin], all of them. AHHA: In terms of artists, if you could do another Back On the Block compilation, who would you have on it?Quincy Jones: I don’t know. [laughs] I’d have to be in the process to know, but I promise you soon I’ll be doing something like that. AHHA: Who are some artists you enjoy these days?Quincy Jones: Everybody! I see the same ones you see – Chris Brown, T.I. – we see the same people, but [I see them] on a much broader basis because I go to Brazil and I hear Hip-Hop people, in China, Korea, all over the world. Even the rappers doing it locally in urban cities, like Louisiana, the songs of the Dirty South, everywhere you go, because it’s connected to a lifestyle and a life force. It’s strong; it’s a body movement, it’s an attitude, it’s an expression. It’s beautiful. AHHA: People say that overseas, the people feel the Hip-Hop more nowadays. Do you agree with that?Quincy Jones: Absolutely. Not only that, they got into it before we got into it. Europe has a culture – that’s why I went to France when I was young – they have much more of an artistic appreciation for what everybody’s doing. It comes from an older culture. We don’t have that, but we will hopefully if the educational system gets off its butt and lets us have a soul, because if we have a soul then we won’t have anymore Columbine [situations]. I really believe that. AHHA: Is there any particular candidate for President that you’re supporting?Quincy Jones: Yes, I’m working with Hillary [Clinton]. I believe in Obama a lot; I think in the future he’s going to be an incredible person, but I’ve been working with the Clintons for so long producing the inauguration, millennium, I know who they are. We need an amazing winner on an international basis, and I think that comes with Hillary and Bill’s legacy. AHHA: What advice would you give to an unsigned artist or a kid who’s interning at a record label right now?Quincy Jones: Where do we have a record business? [laughs] Keep on getting better as a musician; people find things online. Keep experimenting because nobody has successfully done it yet or found a way to get their close relationship between the listener and creator. I see it getting closer and closer, and that’s not bad. AHHA: Why was the music industry so slow in embracing technology?Quincy Jones: That was my whole point, I’ve been [using technology] for 28 years and they act like it wasn’t there. The binary numbers have been around for a long time, but it’s about not paying attention that’s all. I kid the people when I go to Egypt. Egypt is the foundation of civilization and a 3,000-year empire. They did everything – medicine, hieroglyphics, binary numbers, everything, first before anyone on the planet. We were on the Nile one night and I was kidding one of the guys. I said, “What happened? Didn’t you guys believe in electricity?” because the British came along with gun powder from China, and the Industrial Revolution took a third of the world. They figured it out. It’s what we have to do now – figure it out. I put my whole life into [music]. I can’t do anything else. AHHA: You do things everyday for this industry, and it’s amazing what you’ve done and continue to do…Quincy Jones: Well I try, honey. I try to do all that I need to do here. I can’t drive a car, but I know how to do other things.  Watch Pharcyde’s “Passin Me By” which samples Quincy Jones’ “Summer In the City”