Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1074

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Q-TIP: On A Quest

Q-Tip @B&S
Q-Tip @B&S Q-Tip @B&S Q-Tip @B&S Q-Tip @B&S

Universally respected today as one of the most enduringly influential and innovative elder statesmen of rap, former A Tribe Called Quest lead MC/producer Q-Tip this month releases his first album in nine years - the eagerly-awaited âThe Renaissanceâ, the follow-up to his Gold-selling 1999 solo debut LP âAmplifiedâ.

Produced primarily by Q-Tip himself and boasting its fair share of live instrumentation, âThe Renaissanceâ has heralded the US Top Ten return of one of the most recognisable voices and individualist figures in all of hip hop, as his signature flow delivers clever thought-provoking lyrics alongside big-name guests like chart-topping country-jazz songstress Norah Jones and iconic contemporary soul men Raphael Saadiq and DâAngelo. Musical moods meanwhile range from the keyboard-driven groove of the head-nodding single âGettinâ Upâ; to the irrepressibly-infectious, Jackson 5-sampling âMoveâ (one of two tracks produced by Tipâs one-time regular studio collaborator, the late Detroit beatmaker J. Dilla).

âIâve titled this album âThe Renaissanceâ because of where I feel music - and, in particular, hip hop - is at right nowâ, begins the Queens, New York-raised rhymesmith (who also at times refers to himself as both âThe Abstractâ and âKamaal The Abstractâ): âI mean, while there are a few exceptions, overall itâs been devoid of musicality and harmony and those kind of ideas for the best part of a decade. So I just wanted to make a statement that I think itâs time for a rebirth and refocusing of energy, to try and bring it back to an artistic height where itâs also parallel to where weâre at in a socio-political sense right now. You know, people here in The States are chanting about change and wanting things to get on a better track. And I felt that what Iâm doing was kinda synonymous with that. So ultimately I hope this album becomes like the first in a series of recordings that speak to this character I call âThe Renaissance Manâ. Because I do feel like the time is ideal for something that has a revisionist spirit to it.â

With the frenetic drumming and strutting bass-line of a track like âManWomanBoogieâ revealing Q-Tipâs mission to this time around create original music as timeless as the tracks he once used to sample back in the late Eighties, he happily explains the nonconformist musical attitude he displays throughout âThe Renaissanceâ: âIâm very much in favour of a band of musicians striving together and coming together in the studio. Because I think that, once you get a group of players in a room working with a strong artistic element and under correct supervision, it definitely can breed good things. So my intention was to capture that live environment on this album, while also retaining what to me is the traditional hip hop approach. Which is me working with my sampler, chopping things up and kinda getting surgical with it all, if you like. So, with the combination of those two things being very much where Iâm at right now, Iâm very excited about continuing to explore this new musical terrain.â

Meanwhile, Tipâs attitude to his rhymes themselves is similarly uncompromising: âAs an MC, I do feel the premium on lyrics has been phasing out of lateâ, he asserts: âSo, with this record, I just wanted to make sure that I kept the standard of my rhymes and their subject-matter up. Like I have a song called âJohnny Is Deadâ, which speaks about the spirit of America dying and where weâre at as a society today. Like there was a point when Oprah Winfrey was criticising hip hop. So, on one passage, I speak of the generation-gap being widened when one generation is pointing its finger at the other and discrediting it. While on the Raphael Saadiq track âWe Fight/We Loveâ, the second verse is about a kid in America whoâs 19 and a little bit disenfranchised. He wants to go to college, canât afford it... So he decides to join the armed forces, goes to Iraq, and winds up having to deal with the whole situation out there. So, you know, the albumâs just chock full of different, interesting stuff. And Iâm really proud of what Iâve done both musically and lyrically.â

Born Jonathan Davis in Harlem, New York in April 1970, Q-Tip (who would later change his name to Kamaal Ibn John Fareed on converting to Islam in the mid-Nineties) made his first on-record appearance rapping on (old skool hip hop pioneers) The Jungle Brothersâ âStraight Out The Jungleâ LP in 1988. Forming the critically-acclaimed rap trio A Tribe Called Quest in 1989, he quickly gained notoriety for introducing jazzy sampling, laid-back tempos and a boho-chic vibe into hip hop which continues to prove influential two decades down the line with todayâs conscious rappers and neo-soul vocalists. Meanwhile, the Nineties saw him match his ongoing high-profile as lead rapper with A Tribe Called Quest (whose biggest international hit remains 1991âs enduring radio favourite âCan I Kick It?â) with successful production work for big-selling acts ranging from East Coast rappers Nas and Mobb Deep to chart-topping R&B/pop diva Mariah Carey. With Tribe eventually disbanding in 1998, meanwhile, Tip then launched a solo career, with the more commercial flavours of his aforementioned debut set âAmplifiedâ in 2000 spawning the UK pop hits âBreathe & Stopâ and âVivrant Thingâ.

Having additionally enjoyed occasional success as an actor (roles range from 1993âs Janet Jackson-starring âPoetic Justiceâ to Spike Leeâs 2004 movie âShe Hate Meâ) the now-New Jersey-based Q-Tip nevertheless predictably regards his work with A Tribe Called Quest as his most significant artistic contribution to date: âI see the Tribe legacy as one of the strongest in modern musicâ, he concedes: âYou know, from us have come so many artists - like Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, The Fugees, DâAngelo, Kanye West... And I feel very honoured and privileged to have been able to contribute in such a way that, 20 years on, what we did back then is still a reference-point. You know, when we started out, hip hop music was basically all about James Brown samples. But then we came along and were able to bring out the jazz legends like Quincy Jones, Donald Byrd, Coltrane, Miles Davis Stanley Clarke... And even Stevie Wonder was brought out more by the things we did in hip hop. And all of that ultimately connected with people like (Erykah) Badu and The Fugees, who actually used some of our samples and were able to become successful following our initial breakthrough.â

Nevertheless, despite rumours to the contrary sparked by their reunion shows on the recent Rock The Bells tour Stateside, Tip insists that âA Tribe Called Quest is no moreâ: âWhile we still love each other very much and very dearly, for us thatâs it right now. Thereâll be no more albums from Tribe. Basically, in terms of recording, we feel weâve done everything that we could musically. So weâve decided to kinda leave it where itâs at, because we donât wanna desecrate the legacy.â

The single âGettinâ Upâ is released December 1. The album 'The Renaissance' is out now, both through Island Records Group/Universal Motown

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