When Kanye West released his debut, The College Dropout, he took a moment on album-closer "Last Call" to rap, "Fans want the feeling of A Tribe Called Quest/But all they got left is this guy called West." A few years ago, those rhymes come full circle when 'Ye started working with Tribe's frontman Q-Tip on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Watch The Throne. Earlier this year, when it was announced that Q-Tip had officially gotten down with G.O.O.D. Music, excitement peaked. With Kanye adding a legendary hip-hop artist to the roster, possibilities seem endless.
We got the chance to speak with Q-Tip while on set for G.O.O.D. Music's Complex cover shoot, and he had plenty to say about his new situation. The conversation drifted from what he's learned from being in the game for so long to what he gets out of rocking with younger dudes like Kid Cudi, Big Sean, and Pusha T and what he makes of being perceived as an "asshole perfectionist."
Interview by Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin)
What have you done for Cruel Summer?
I've done beats. I've done rhymes. We'll see. I didn't mix. I'm just contributing.
Have you been in the studio?
Yeah. I was in New York with Pusha, Kanye and DJ Khaled. Fat Joe was there. One time Cudi was there. It varied. It was cool. Everybody was working. Again, the music is a unifying thing. As long as you keep it centered around music, it's all good.
What's it like working with young guys like Cudi and Big Sean?
It's all music, you know? It's a simple thing. It's just music. That's the thing that brings us together. The unifying force is music. So as long as you operate there.
What is your situation with the label?
It's a long journey, but I've basically been signed to Universal in some way shape or form or incarnation for about 10 years. So I've just kind of been through the system. I still had an obligation to fill and they didn't necessarily want to discard me for whatever reasons so I kind of had my pick of the litter. Dreamworks, Interscope, Motown, and then Def Jam.
I met Kanye years ago at a show. I was working with Kanye during Watch The Throne. I was playing him beats that I was doing and he was like, “Yo, what label are you on?” And I was like, “Def Jam.” And he was like, “Damn you need to be on G.O.O.D.” And we were rocking, and I was like, let's do it. It's that simple.
When did the G.O.O.D. Music album conversation come up?
Well, Kanye never stops working. This was always going on, he just made the decision to say, “Yo, we should just do the G.O.O.D. Music album.” So it wasn't really a "when" type of thing. As long as I can remember he's always kind of mentioned it and talked about it and fertilized it.
You are Kanye are very different personality-wise.
I'm cool but I have my moments. I'm an Aries so I'm fiery and I’m very opinionated. Didn't you see the movie? I'm just kidding. They depicted me as the asshole perfectionist. But I'm not an asshole. I think 'Ye would probably say he's an asshole. We have our similarities. I don't really close off avenues and opportunities, so when that came up I was like, "Sure." I've a very "go with the tide" type of dude.
What type of lessons have you learned being in the game?
The biggest lessons I've learned is that there's another lesson coming. I always try to stay open. It's funny because when I see Pharrell, he always calls me teacher. So to equalize that humility, because I really do think he's a teacher, I call him teacher. I understand the love and the respect that he gives me, but I think the one thing about being a teacher is that you're always a student.
You've got to stay open and continue to put yourself in situations where you can learn a lesson. So the lesson that I learned was to stay open, stay learning, and stay humble.
Can you learn from guys who are new, like a Big Sean or a Kid Cudi?
Absolutely. That's the thing, never stop learning. I like to learn, I'm just a sucker for new information. Learning, working, trying to innovate, and striving. Still being me. My job isn't to be here and be talking about how I'm buying out the bar and tricking my bitches. That's never been my thing and it's not going to start. I don't kid myself.
But I am a student and I have managed to continue to learn. So I definitely learn from Cudi, Sean, and Pusha. Just listening, sitting back, and studying sometimes. You have to be quiet to gain.
Anything specific you've learned from them?
One thing I got from Pusha from watching him and his description of things, his approach is really interesting because he really immerses himself in his music. We all do, but his way of doing it is beyond words. It's amazing to watch and see how he does it.
Watching Jay do lyrics and watching 'Ye do beats, you see similarities in yourself to them. Sometimes when that happens you are like, “Phew. I'm not the only crazy one. They do the same shit I do.” That's a learning point as well.
When I've seen Jay do lyrics, he'll sit back and spit the rhymes himself, he'll leave a bar or two, he'll come back to it another day and fill it in. He'll go away and think about and come back two days later and fill it in. I'm a person who will fill that in. And I've seen 'Ye do it t0o. It's a technique thing.
What lessons do you teach these guys?
I love to give information out. Anything that I've known I give; from sounds to mixes to opinions. I just try to be vocal. So I give a lot. I don't really know what I give. But I know that I do give. I don't keep inventory of what I give. I just do it because I enjoy it.
Have you always been that way?
Yes, sometimes to a detriment. Sometimes certain people will take, take, take and then expect you to continue giving. I don't care who you are, but if you give, give, give, you have to be in some sort of relationship where you feel this value coming back.
If you feel there's no value coming back, whether it's appreciation, acknowledgment, or actual things, when you start, then hopefully you wise up and you cut off. You've given. Once you do that then people expect it and they get mad and ornery and angry and you become a perfectionist asshole. That's the perils of giving gifts. And they also forget sometimes.