On March 10th I was lucky enough to be able to sit down with Q-Tip (pictured above with Nicky of HEAVy after both their shows in Paradiso, Amsterdam) for about 30 minutes and ask him some of the many questions I’ve had for years as a real A Tribe Called Quest fanatic. My original reason for wanting to interview him was to hear his side of the story on the “Got Til It’s Gone” situation that Dilla shed light on in the 2003 Dustbusters audio interview. I intended to make it an audio interview too, but the audio didn’t turn out too good hence the transcript. Check it out after the jump.
I read in a A Tribe Called Quest biography that Ali (Shaheed) had noticed you rhyming Jimmy Spicer’s “Adventures Of Super Rhyme” all the time by yourself… is that true?
(Laughs) Yeah… yeah
And you actually knew all 15 minutes of it?
Yeah… you want to hear it? Nah haha just kidding
Something from around that same time, you used to go by the name MC Love Child…
Yeah that’s a long time ago
How did you go from MC Love Child to Q-Tip?
That was just like a nickname in highschool… that I got from Africa (Baby Bam from the Jungle Brothers). He was calling me that and it just stuck, and all the girls started calling me that so I just said fuck it
How did you guys come up with… I don’t particularly want to call it a style… but you were very different subject wise from anybody else out at the time. You were talking about topics like vegetarianism for example.
Right… I don’t know… We were just doing it you know what I’m saying?! Getting inspiration from different things and letting it come out in the music you know…
So basically just life?
How did y’all come to form The Ummah and what was the main purpose behind doing that?
Well you know at the time there were a lot of production crews. There was The Goodfellas, The Trackmasters etc. We just wanted to get our shit out like that, so we tried to form The Ummah and tried to get that shit poppin. We had the same manager as The Trackmasters actually
Production wise you did the large part of the first 3 A Tribe Called Quest albums correct?
I did all of it, except for where Skeff Anselm‘s noted
So you did “Lyrics To Go” too?
Why is there no bassline on that song?
(Laughs) I don’t know man… I was just feeling those Rhodes you know?!? I just wanted to let that shit ride!
Something you definitely know about… Pete Rock spoke about “We Got The Jazz” in Wax Poetics…
Yeah and this is what happened. We were at his crib in Mount Vernon and we were all supposed to rhyme over this beat… me, him and Large Professor. He was rockin’ it and I was just like ‘Are we gonna do it?!’ and he was like ‘I don’t know… I don’t know’. So I asked him again ‘Yo what’s up with that beat that shit is hot… yo what’s those records I wanna hook that beat up!’ And he was like ‘Aight fuck it’. I was like ‘I’m gonna do that shit and then we can exchange, I’ll give you some shit’. And he was like ‘Alright, cool’. That was the story… that’s why on it (“We Got The Jazz”) I said ‘Pete Rock for the beat ya don’t stop’. You know… because it was some exchange shit
He basically gave you permission?
I mean it’s the same way Large Professor gave him permission… you know they swapped the records for “T.R.O.Y.”. That was Large Professor
On “Keep It Moving” you were talking about the state of Hip Hop at the time with the whole East and West thing. What inspired you to talk about that, because when I first heard it it was kind of surprising since you guys always brought it real positive and then it was like ‘Hip Hop can never be a way of life’ etc.
At that time Ice Cube and Hammer put records out dissing us… Hammer did some shit dissing us because of what was said in “Check The Rhyme”. When I said ‘Proper. What you say Hammer? Proper. Rap is not pop, if you call it that then stop’.
I said that because there was a KFC commercial out that Hammer did and he says ‘now that’s pop‘. At the time people were calling Hip Hop music Pop music and I was saying Hammer was a Hip Hop artist, he’s not Pop. ‘Rap is not pop, if you call it that then stop’. He thought that i was saying that HE was pop. He was like the most iconic figure in Hip Hop (at the time) and people were calling his music Pop. So it got misconstrued. He started dissing, then I said something. At the time he was starting this whole phrase “playa hater”. That term came from (East) Oakland, so it was lots of his people saying that ‘hater, hater, hater’. That’s where the term first came from, so I was speaking specifically to Hammer (on “Keep It Moving”) because it came from him and his crew. So it was a little thing but we sorted it out
Tribe broke up pretty much in public, speaking on it in The Source in 1998. Then a few years later you reunited for a few shows and a track surfaced titled “ICU (Doin’ It)”. What’s the story behind it?
Man… we were just messing around
(Because) It sounds like it could have been older… but it was really new?
But that’s it… no more Tribe?
How did you get to do your first production work on the Jungle Brothers’ stuff like “The Promo”?
I was just always catching beats and doing pause tapes at the time, shit like that. We went to school together… me, Mike G. and Africa (Baby Bam). Then they started putting their stuff together for their album and I had a couple of little pieced and that’s how it went down
Whatever happened to Museum Music?
Museum Music just never took off… We had Consequence on there… I was trying to sign Erykah (Badu) and Raekwon to it, but it just never really took off so that was it
There were rumors back in the day that you were starting a group called Fabulous Fleas (with Posdnuos from De La Soul and Juju from The Beatnuts) and other spinoff groups that for the outside world never took off like Nasal Tongues (with ADRock from The Beastie Boys and B-Real from Cypress Hill). Is there any truth to this?
Nah that’s not true (Nasal Tongues)… that was a rumor. Fabulous Fleas was something that we were going to do. We actually recorded a little thing, it was just silly… me, Pos(dnuous), Africa (Baby Bam) and Juju from The Beatnuts. It was like a little group we were gonna do
What about the group with Common that you recently spoke about in interviews (The Standard)?
Yeah! We trying… I would like to do that, but it’s up to Common. It’s just hard to catch him
I hit you up a while ago about the Dustbusters’ Dilla interview and you said ‘there’s something I want to set straight on that one’. In the interview Dilla said ‘me, Tip and Ali collaborate on this track for Janet slated to be her first single called “Got Til It’s Gone”. Then when it came out the credits said someone else’. Now he didn’t name a name but everybody who has the record can check the credits and see who it is. What’s your side to the story?
The way it went down was… Me and Jay had worked on some shit and I think Janet and them had heard it and it inspired them to make “Got Til It’s Gone”. At the same time I had just finished mixing for Jay… the Brand New Heavies joint, the “Sometimes” remix. So they heard that, I believe she (Janet) was vacationing somewhere, and then they heard some beats me and Dilla had done together. From that I think that spurred on to them doing “Got Til It’s Gone” and then they called me to rhyme on it. So it sounded familiar like one of the joints me and Jay had done
You’re saying it was inspired by what you two did?
I guess… or they heard it and tried to redo what we did
So it wasn’t straight up taking a track from you…
Nah they heard some shit that we were doing and were trying to copy it I guess
In the late 90′s after “Amplified” had come out, you started taking drum lessons and piano lessons (from Weldon Irvine). How did that influence the later output that you had? Has that given you a different look on how you make music?
Yeah definitely… I had a fire and lost all my records. I thought that was just symbolic for me because I still had it in me to do music. I just wanted to really. I thought about it… I was faced with not having record to chop and sample, but I still had music in me. So I just wanted to make sure that if that ever happened again I would still be able to put my voice out there. So I studied and studied music theory and played piano and drums and stuff.
And that’s when you started working on the “Kamal The Abstract” album?
Being that you’ve had all these situations with labels shelving your projects. How do you feel about those albums now? Do you ever feel like you want to still put those projects out?
Well I’m putting “Kamal The Abstract” out this year actually. I’m putting it out through Sony, I’m excited about that
When you started working on the new album, “The Renaissance”, did you feel like you had to leave that (earlier material) behind you completely because it’s years old already?
Nah.. nah nah! It’s still all there you know? It’s still there and ready to go. I try not to close off any avenues to creativity
What happened to “Work It Out”, why wasn’t it on “The Renaissance”?
Oh that was just a little teaser for the people you know?!?
You’re one of the few artists who’s really accessible to his fans. Your personal site is a social network and you’re very active on Twitter. How important do you feel it is to be accessible to your fans? Is that something you conciously decided on doing?
Yeah definitely. I want to be able to have some interaction with the people and see what’s going on. I’m just a peoples person and that’s it. I don’t want to overkill it and overdo it, but here and there I’ll share some music a bit or some info or say hey to certain people
Are you involved in the ATCQ documentary that Michael Rappaport is shooting?
Michael Rappaport is directing it and Nas is producing it. That should be out in like another year and a half I think
Speaking of Nas… I saw you mentioned the other day that…
That I’m gonna be working with him again?
Is that something that’s definite?
Yeah that’s for sure!
The one thing that always told me something was a Q-Tip production were the drums. What kind of equipment did you use?
The SP(1200) for drums and for the loops the (AKAI S)950. That’s something that Large Professor put me onto (the AKAI S950). I just liked the snap of it. For me… I was always into the big drums with the tin like smack of it
Yeah that’s definitely how they sounded. Well I think that’s it…
Well I just feel like… what I wanted to say. When I did Tribe… like a lot of people didn’t know that I produced the first 3 Tribe albums. Because on it it said “produced by A Tribe Called Quest”. I put that because I didn’t feel like the individual should be greater than the unit. And I was raised to believe that the unit represented strength. It was strength and numbers. So if you moved as a unit that was it. That’s why I wasn’t into “produced by Q-Tip”, I was like let’s just say “produced by A Tribe Called Quest” and we can all benefit from it
Is that also a reason you used “produced by The Abstract” (for example on Mobb Deep’s “The Infamous” album)?
Yeah just to kind of keep it like… I don’t want to get too glossed on it. It was the same thing for The Ummah. That’s why I came up with The Ummah, because I felt it was the brotherhood. That word (Ummah) means brotherhood. But the problem with The Ummah and even now with me with Tribe… With Ummah, just because I was the face, people would automatically assume sometimes, like with that “Sometimes” remix, that I produced it or that I did the beat when it was Dilla. So people would get confused sometimes over that and think that just because I’m the face of it, if it says The Ummah it means that I did it or credited it as such. And that wasn’t the case. So he (Dilla) wanted to make sure that he got known for what he did
It’s the same thing for Tribe right now, a lot of people still think Ali did those first 3 albums because he was the DJ. People don’t realize… I even had the head of my record company, Barry Weiss, who was the head of Jive. When I saw him 3 years ago and we were talking about doing Tribe again he was like ‘It would be great to get Ali back on those beats’. And I was like ‘Barry… we have been working together for 15 years and you don’t know I did all of that?’ So I can emphatize with where Dilla was at because I was at the same place you know?!? My whole idea I think it was a great idea to represent a unit. But from poor management to not really understanding the ramifications of it, it didn’t work to that (great idea) necessarily. Still in all I think we all were able to make some good music
Yeah… and a lot of times people will say (about you as a producer) ‘well he didn’t do that much’ while in reality…
Yeah man… I saw some people say that I didn’t do the “Get Down” remix, the Craig Mack shit. People were saying Dilla did that but I did that. Then people were saying that I did “Breathe & Stop” but Dilla did that. And they were saying Dilla did “Vivrant Thing” but I did that. You know it’s just all mixed up.
It’s funny you mention the “Get Down” remix because apart from it being before you met Dilla, the thing I hear in it is Large Professor. Was he a big influence or was it more like you said earlier that you guys were hanging out producing together?
Yeah me and Large Professor used to always hang out and do beats together. Chop shit up… we influenced each other.
So it was the sound? The sound of that era?
Yeah man that’s the main gist of it.