The last ten years of Kamaal ‘Q-Tip’ Fareed’s life didn’t quite go according to plan. Not that he let it bother him too much. While the path to the release of his new album The Renaissance is littered with record company knockbacks and creative control power plays, Q-Tip took it all in his stride. “A lot of stuff has gone down..,” he tells us but his patience is paying off with the release of The Renaissance.
Artists who have formed legacies as part of a seminal group always find it difficult to shake. And if the group is as important to a genre as A Tribe Called Quest is to hip-hop, then even more so. Their first three albums might be between 15 and 18 years old but they still crackle with the possibilty of positivity and pleasantry in a genre now much malinged for manufacturing carcinogenic cartoon caricatures. Just listen to the beautiful flow and ambiance of 1993’s Midnight Marauders LP, a perfect example of Tribe’s jazz-infused hip-hop and intelligent wordplay. When the proceeding two albums’ degrade in quality and focus led to the group splitting in 1998, Q-Tip wasted no time in launching a solo career and the following year he released the J Dilla produced Amplifed. Much to the surprise of Tribe fans, it marked a shift in sound to a more pop-orientated direction and is notable for its two infectious hit singles ‘Breathe and Stop’ and ‘Vivrant Thing’. The album was certified gold, selling over 500,000 copies in the process.
With success under his belt, Q-Tip began to explore his musical boundaries, working with a live band on what was to become his second solo album Kamaal The Abstract. The album sees Tip extend his ouevre by adding an admirable singing voice to his musical palette. The album had an organic jazz-lounge, moonlit-funk vibe and he was joined on all of its 10 songs by a live band. It contained some wonderful evocative songs but Kamaal The Abstract is an album that’s closer to Norah Jones than Noreaga in terms of atmosphere so Tip’s label Arista weren’t too happy with the outcome. It was shelved just before release in 2002 despite critical acclaim on the grounds that the album was “uncommercial”.
“Y’know, you rake it with a grain of salt because you just do the music and you get frustrated and shit if it doesn’t happen for you when you want it to happen but it teaches you humility and teaches you vigilance,” Tip tells State down the phone from the quiet streets of Jersey, where he currently resides. “I love what I do, I’m an artist. That’s my lifelong thing, that’s my destiny. I don’t waver from what I want to do y’know? No matter what one other person may say.”
Just two years later, Tip was again knocked back by his new label J Records when he submitted an album called Open in 2004 which while not as unconventional as Kamaal The Abstract certainly retained that album’s eclectic leanings. Featuring guest appearances by Common, D’Angelo and another rap entertainer and innovator Andre 3000, who in the previous year with Outkast had released the dizzying sex rap funk album The Love Below. Q-Tip didn’t let his focus slip however and he estimates he recorded over 500 songs in the last nine years, finding time to reunite with A Tribe Called Quest for some shows in 2006. “I’ve been working on music the whole time. I stay on it. I’m really sharp and I just keep going. I just don’t slow down,” he explains.
State has clearly caught him during a tired moment at the end of a tiring day. He pauses a few times throughout our conversation to accept compliments from fans and a Jamaican elder with who Tip briefly corresponds in Jamaican patois. He is gracious in taking compliments and it is obviously heartfelt. The PR lady who connected the call had mentioned that he was up late last night, was very tired and had done a lot of interviews that day and it showed. He was despondent throughout the interview and asked for questions to be repeated occasionally but when he talks, like when he raps, you take notice.
Read part two of State’s interview with Q-Tip.