At times, the hip hop industry can seem a lot like American politics – for each person out there making things happen, there are about a dozen who simply want to tell everyone else what to think, (and what they have to say is nearly never positive). Case in point: the former fad of describing the genre as “dead.” Fortunately, we have individuals like A Tribe Called Quest alumnus Q-Tip to remind us that hip hop isn’t going anywhere, and that its best days may still lie ahead.
With the November 4th release of his second solo effort, Tip will give listeners a look at his vision of a hip hop Renaissance, a reawakening of the creative spirit that will bring the genre to new heights. Lead single “Gettin’ Up” and featured track “Move” should give you a good idea of what the veteran emcee has in store on this long-awaited LP: witty, cerebral rhymes delivered over a backdrop of classic samples fused with live instrumentation.
In an exclusive interview with our very own DJ “Z,” Q-Tip steps inside the DJ Booth to talk about the artists he believes are ringing in a new era of hip hop, the balance he tries to strike between mainstream viability and street appeal, and how his past achievements affect the music that he makes today.
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Q-Tip Interview Transcription
DJ Booth: What’s goin’ on, everybody? It’s your boy “Z,” doin’ it real big, and joining me inside the DJ Booth is a Renaissance man. Back with a new solo album for the first time in nine years, please welcome Q-Tip!
Q-Tip: What up, what’s goin’ on, man?
DJ Booth: How are you doin’?
Q-Tip: I’m chillin’, how are you?
DJ Booth: I am chillin’ as well. Tip, the new album, entitled The Renaissance, drops Tuesday. The word “renaissance” has two definitions. I looked it up: either “the end of the Middle Ages,” or, “a classical revival.” I assume the album is based on the latter…
Q-Tip: Yes, it is. The classical revival, I guess, if you want to put it in that regard, is just speaking to more of a revival of the creative spirit in hip hop. There’s been banter over the last few years about the lack of lyricism, the absence of musical creativity, so on and so forth, and I feel like we’ve kinda turned a corner. There’s a lot of artists in the underground that are startin’ to come up and make noise, whether it be Santogold or Wale or Kid CuDi, or Pac Div. I feel like we’re in the beginning stages of experiencing [a renaissance]. And also, just where we’re at in the political sense: the country is in a sociopolitical renaissance as well, we’re about to experience one as well.
DJ Booth: Exactly. Tip, if a listener only has time to either vote in the election or pick up a copy of your new album next Tuesday, which would you prefer that they do?
Q-Tip: I don’t even wanna answer that, because obviously we’re gonna have to vote, ‘cause that’s the most important thing to do. I mean, my album, yeah, I want people to get it, but the reality is that you can go vote and get the album. I’d like people to do both.
DJ Booth: Tip, 11 of the 12 songs on the album were self-produced, so let’s talk a little bit about them. Which record would you say was the hardest for you to concoct, and which record, by the same token, came to you the easiest?
Q-Tip: They all pretty much had their processes; none were easiest or harder than the others. I kinda deal with my production in a methodical way, so none was really that hard. It’s fun.
DJ Booth: Let’s talk about one of the songs on the album, “Dance on Glass.” It opens with the line, “All my people at the label want something to repeat/ but all my people want something for the street.” Is a combination of both of these things possible, and, if so, would you describe this album as that perfect balance?
Q-Tip: I feel like my album is kind of a balance. I try to make sure that my people, first of all, get satisfied, and, the label, their tastes are always, for me, in question – who knows, really, what they like, and for what reasons? But I really try to make my movement a people movement, moreso than a business movement.
DJ Booth: Can you explain that a little bit further?
Q-Tip: Well, I just try to deal directly with the people. That’s my main objective and my main goal; not so much the business, and what we acquire from good business, and all of that stuff. That’s secondary, and not a priority.
DJ Booth: Would you say they your priority to deal directly with your fans, the people, has partially if not in full accounted for the large gap in projects?
Q-Tip: No. I think the gaps between the projects has been because of the business, just some functions of the business that weren’t necessarily operating in my favor, and that’s why there was a lapse.
DJ Booth: Do you feel like, when people look back on your solo career, they’ll view you any differently because you had all that time and there was not music being put out?
Q-Tip: I hope not – I hope that people would base everything off of the merit of the music. That’s what it should be on, you know?
DJ Booth: Yeah. Let’s play a game. It’s gonna be called “Title Mad-Libs.” I’m going to use the titles of three of your records on The Renaissance, and spin them into random questions, and you can go ahead and fill in the blanks. First one: “Life Is Better When [blank].”
Q-Tip: When hip-hop is dope.
DJ Booth: Second, “I Won’t Trade [blank] For a Multi-Platinum Certified Album.”
DJ Booth: Last one, “I Believe, in the Year 2018, Music Will Sound Like [blank].”
Q-Tip: I can’t answer that.
DJ Booth: Why not?
Q-Tip: [laughs] ‘Cause I don’t know what it’ll sound like!
DJ Booth: Come up with something!
Q-Tip: I believe, in the year 2018, music will sound like, I don’t know, bells.
DJ Booth: Bells? Okay. We took questions from many of our readers, and we sifted through some of the best. First one comes from Erica of New Jersey, and she wrote, “How often, if ever, do you consciously think about your famed legacy in hip hop?”
Q-Tip: I think about it, Erica, but I don’t think about it too much. When I’m doin’ my music, I always look at it like it’s brand new, and I try not to become tainted by my history. The only thing I’ll look to my history for is to inform me where to go, for my future steps. Other than that, I don’t wallow in my history, I don’t brag on my history, I kind just let history be history. I call it into play for information; other than that, I move forward with a new perspective every time.
DJ Booth: Okay. Next question comes from DJ Blaze, who’s our own resident DJ equipment professional, and he said, “Do you still hang out these days with Leonardo DiCaprio?
Q-Tip: Yeah, he’s one of my best friends.
DJ Booth: For the start of the New York Knicks’ season at Madison Square Garden, you’re gonna be performing a new version of the New York Knicks’ theme song, “Go, New York, Go.” Tip, can this provide enough momentum to carry your team to its first winning season since 2000?
Q-Tip: [laughs] You know what? I really hope so. If it was as easy as puttin’ together a song to get my Knicks into the playoffs, then, man, I’m a very privileged guy, and I really hope that it could happen that way.
DJ Booth: As a Bulls fan myself, do you hate me because of what we put you through in the ‘90s?
Q-Tip: [laughs] No, I don’t hate you, because I still have my poster of John Starks dunking on your man Jordan and Horace Grant, and their necks being broken, so I revel in that.
DJ Booth: Just so you know, then, I have two posters as well: one is MJ dunking over Ewing, and the other is Pippin dunking over Ewing. Let’s stick with sports for a second, Tip. You’re gonna be headlining, along with The Cool Kids, this year’s 2K9 Sports Tour, which kicks off next week. What has been, up to this point, your best performance moment of all time, and, if you don’t mind sharing, what has been the most embarrassing performance moment of all time?
Q-Tip: I guess the most embarrassing one was when we first started, and we did this show in Maryland, and two people were there, and I guess the best one was playing the only arena that matters in the country, Madison Square Garden, for the first time – that was a great moment.
DJ Booth: Was there a particular moment – and it might be the one that you just referenced – where, at that point in time, when you came out on stage, you knew you had made it? Like, the size of the crowd, the venue, the atmosphere, that was the signal to you that everything had come to fruition?
Q-Tip: I knew I kinda made it prior, but I felt like I had arrived when I played the Garden the first time.
DJ Booth: No doubt. Tip, I’m excited you’re back, I know all your fans are. Go ahead, give everybody a website or a MySpace page, something so they can find out more about the new album.
Q-Tip: What’s up, everybody? This is Q-Tip. The Renaissance is on November 4th. We’re gonna go out and vote on November 4th, and when we’re done we’re gonna pick up a piece of hip hop that hopefully will stay with you, man. It’s called The Renaissance. You can reach out to me at q-tip.com. For all you MySpacers, myspace.com/qtip. I’m lookin’ forward to seein’ you guys out there; I’m goin’ on the road with The Cool Kids, and we’re comin’ to a city near you. Thank you for all the support over the years, and your continued support is really appreciated. Thanks!
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