Q-Tip: Bell Ringer

posted July 23, 2008 12:00:00 AM CDT | 17 comments

Q-Tip is in need of a renaissance. Never mind the current state of the game or the circumstances which led up to having at least one of his previous solo albums permanently locked in the vaults by the suits at Arista Records. "The Abstract" has been criss-crossing the country on red eye flights to share headlining duties with his brethren from A Tribe Called Quest on the Rock The Bells tour in Chicago. Despite some obvious fatigue, Tip was gracious enough to open up his dressing room and do a little press for his upcoming album, Live At The Renaissance.

In about 10 hours there will be an epic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde transformation that showcases the Tribe channeling some Native Tongues circa 1993 showmanship. But even at this ridiculously early hour, all it takes is a little conversation about the more abstract parts of his catalogue and performing to make Q-Tip partake in a rebirth akin to the one scholars use to describe Europe's cultural movement of the fifteenth century. For those who believe Hip Hop is going through its own version of the Dark Ages, it will take more patience to see if Tip's efforts will receive a positive reception or be slept on.

HipHopDX: Your last few solo efforts have been deemed experimental, ahead of their time. Did you re-evaluate at all, as far as your approach?
No, because music is just what Im feeling at the time. It comes how it comes, and it depends on the new situation.

DX: You have used Jazz musician Wes Montgomery as a source before, citing how he retooled his career at 30 years old. Given your experience in the game, can you elaborate on how youve applied that?
Q: Wes Montgomery
started to play guitar when he was 29. He went on to be considered one of the best in musician circles. I was drawing that analogy.

DX: In Interview magazine, you compared rap right now to Disco. With something like Rock The Bells going on, how much do you think efforts like these turn that around so it doesnt fall to Disco?
I think its important. Its not that Disco is a horrible thing, it just has a negative connotation. It became popular, like Hip Hop, Pop-ular. Pop. Pop. Pop. Things like [Rock The Bells] are cool, but you dont want to section things off like, This is the real Hip Hop. If you want to [accept] the music, its for everybody, no matter the background or section. So I feel like, yeah, this is important because it shows that we can survive, not only to ourselves, but to people in positions of power. To see that Rakim may not be a bad idea to get to work on a new album, cause he still has a draw. Or De La Soul is still riding in a relatively popular marketplace. Because the thing about music is, record sales have gone down Tower Records closes and Virgin closes, but you see more Sam Ashes and Guitar Centers. People are quick to buy equipment computers, guitars, deejay equipment. So the appetite is there. A tour like this should just show that to people in authoritative positions minds. Its every genre, not just Hip Hop, but Rock, Jazz, R&B, the appetite is there.

DX: You once compared your love of music to Al Pacinos character from Panic In Needle Park, who was a heroin addict. As a music junkie and record collector does the current state of things change that?
Am I still chasing after the high? Yeah. I always buy records, listen to records, enjoy records. Its a hobby; I like records. I like to find a beat. I like rare pressings. I like stuff that sounds different. Different mixes. Im into it.

DX: As a performer, how often does that addictive tendency come?
Like catching lightning in a bottle? I dont really get that feeling. I dont really do stuff. You hear it, and it sounds good. It just feels good, and you just go with it. You dont always get the, this is a grand slam [off the bat] feeling so much. I dont.

DX: In terms of production, people tend to ask you about a lot of the same records. One that Ive never really heard you speak on is Crooklyn Dodgers. Did Spike Lee come to you with those emcees in mind, or did you pick them?
Spike approached, and he gave us a screening at the time. At the time we had [Buckshot, Masta Ace and Special Ed], we had Ol Dirty Bastard, and we reached out to Jay-Z [click to read], I think, at the time, and maybe somebody else. I think they all came. I think Ol Dirty Bastard left, and I think Jay came late. So Spike was like [Q-Tip shrugs his shoulders].

DX: How was that for you as a producer coming into his own working outside the group?
It was great. I like working with other artists cause it gives me a different environment. So it gives you different things. I think its good.

DX: You passed the torch to Busta Rhymes, symbolically on the Scenario LONS remix in the 90s. Was there a connection between that and your recent collaboration You Cant Hold The Torch a few years back?
Q: Busta
wanted to do that song. I just guested on it; that was his concept, and it was hot.

DX: Back in 1998, you described an encounter with Jesse Jackson Jr. and gave the following quote, In a minute youll have people running this country talking about, Yo Run-DMC was the shit. I remember Treacherous Three. Its starting now. You got Hip Hop lawyers, writers and journalists As an Obama supporter, can you describe watching that come to fruition?
It was inevitable. You have the potential for the next President of the United States to be a Hip Hop head. It has some relevance, because that means that somebody has connected, in some way, to the experience of the African American people of this country the struggle, not only the struggle to survive, but the struggle to find ourselves, find integrity, and thats what we did through Hip Hop. I think Barack Obamas life is represented to me in a very [Hip Hop] way in a post-Vietnam [War]/sexual revolution era. Coming up in the 80s and 90s, when crack cocaine epidemic [occurred], Hip Hop, Punk Rock, it all came out of that. Its inevitable theres probably gonna be more to come. In 10 to 15 years, the Prime Minister of Canada is probably gonna be a big Cypress Hill head or somethin. Its inevitable that thisll happen, the same way that Im sure George Bush was probably listenin to Alabama and Elvira [by Kenny Rogers and First Edition] and shit. Same thing.

DX: A lot of people associate your solo music and Tribes music with happiness, or relief. However, a lot of that music was made during troubled times for New York and the world. Could you comment on that?
I guessI think we just had an idea of what we wanted to do, and we just let the music dictate those ideas. We tried to be too deterred [by what was going on]. Whatever came out of the music, was what it was.

DX: I put on Find A Way [click to read] recently on the turntable when I had some people over for 4th of July. My man said he wanted to get married to that song. Ten years ago, you promoted The Love Movement. When you hear things like that, how much do you think youve given Hip Hop help in how to love, and how significant is that today?
Wow. Thank you. I was just saying this yesterday: love is the most powerful emotion that we have. Even more than hate [or] sadness. Love is what motivates people good love youve got bad love too, but its just a very powerful emotion. Its more important now than its ever been, and it takes practice. I believe in love.

DX: Very few performers in Hip Hop have performed outdoors as much as you have over your career. Its raining here in Chicago right now, with plans of continuing. In all the years, were there any wild performance memories in really challenging weather?
Yeah, yeah. One time we was touring we was touring with The Fugees in Phoenix, Arizona. It was crazy!

DX: Rain?
Like a hurricane. We were outdoors. Lauryn [Hill] was on stage, and she was doing somersaults and shit. It was thundering and lightning, and they were performing Killing Me Softly, [click to read] while the lightning was [occurring]. It was quite poetic. [Laughs] Its gonna rain all day?

DX: I dont think so. They said three times. Now. Two pm. Six pm.

DX: Weather.com.
[Q-Tip laughs]

DX: Youve got a really extensive catalogue. Lets say, as youre walking from this dressing room to the stage, a die-hard fan requests a deep-cut, we could even say Go Ahead In The Rain, [click to read] how able are you to perform joints like that?
[Laughs] I dont know. [Laughs] It varies. I might have to listen to it for a refresher course. Its hard to remember a lot of tunes.

DX: Does that happen?
Its happened on occasion. We politely ignore them, because we get old and dont remember like we used to. [Smiling]

DX: Is there a point where you dont feel like performing older songs much?
It depends. It depends what fits the set. You try to set the vibe with music. You make the music to perform it, no matter if its 10 years ago or 10 minutes ago, but you have to fit it into the musical tapestry. Nothing is off limits.

Additional Reporting by Jake Paine.

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