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.
How do you avoid what happened before?
You don't make the same mistakes. You just straight up, be honest. Assess but don't assess to the point that you miss out or you become judgmental. You rely on your synergy with others, you let that guide you and hopefully God helps too. Hopefully with a mind and wit to be able to and you will be able to navigate through it and figure it out.
So how do you go about criticizing things?
I put things up for judgment when I don't feel certain about it. The things I feel certain about, I trust that and I go with that usually.
For this album, what did you feel certain about?
It's hard to say because I'm just a participant in it. As we all are. We are all parts that make the sum. So, all you can be sure about is what you're bringing, and your tool chest.
What have you brought?
My talent, people call it? Shit. Whatever that thing is, that’s what we all bring.
The management is left to Kanye?
This is his compilation album. We all are a part of it, it's all our thing, but he made kind of the decision on it. I think we all make each other better. Everyone is going to push one another. It's good because it brings out the best in everybody.
How do you react to something someone else does?
If I hear something that's going incredibly left to the degree of damage, I'll speak on it and give my opinion. I'll be polite about it. I'm not somebody who will be like, “Yo that shit sucks.” But I'll just offer some opinions about it and people can deal with it or not.
What’s it like in the studio with all these guys?
The thing about the compilation, you're just a team of dope dudes. Like everybody is dope. Everybody is nice. It's just a great environment. You can bold print that. You take that experience with you. You stick to the music, you rely on the music, you can't go wrong. I've said it a million times.
You've seen it go wrong.
I've seen it go wrong because dudes don't want to play the notes sometimes. Sometimes the notes aren't on the sheet either. Sometimes there is a suggestion of a note and you've got to be able to hear that truth. I've seen it go wrong a lot. Whether my group, other groups.
Does that weigh heavy on your mind?
It's just a part of who I am. This was my calling so, it's just what we do as artists.
If you felt like someone wasn't playing the notes...
I'd say it. I'm not going to let somebody just do some dumb shit. Unless they really have their heart set on doing it, then they'll be another casualty that we all will see, that ghost.
That hasn't come up yet though has it?
No. This is the thing about it. That one thing with Kanye is he's a really smart guy, and he doesn't call it a group. He doesn't necessarily call it a label in a way. He doesn't necessarily call it family in a way. It's just a bunch of people who are alike. Even though they come from different place and different places and say different things, everybody’s drive is the same.
Everybody from Kanye to Pusha to Chainz, everybody to myself to Common, everyone has their foot like this. Mashed down to the floor. We on the Autobahn though. We ain't mashed down on the floor on 2nd Avenue running lights. Everbody's in they lane, in they space. Everyone is moving with passion.
Without that definition, you work to your best, it enables you to flourish more. It doesn't close you. Kanye's not a guy that likes to be pegged and cornered and categorized. He likes shit that's fresh, honest, and insightful.
We leave that for everyone else to say what it is. Y'all know what it is, you see it, you feel it, and you hear it. I won't make the mistake, just being what it is and following that energy and connecting with each other and feeling it.
What kind of communication do you have regularly?
The thing about the communication is sometimes it's not verbal. Sometimes it's quiet communication. It's feeling. Like I said before, you play the notes, sometimes the note isn’t on the paper. It's a suggestion, it's energy. We all move off of energy. Music is powerful. It doesn't necessarily need a phone call.
But when we all get together you feel the energy. You'll see when we all get together, you'll feel it. You'll feel energy because it's real. We ain't no joke when it comes to what we do. Each man. So you can feel the energy. It's really hard to describe, but it's a feeling.
How does G.O.O.D. stack up against MMG and YMCMB?
I think it's all good. It's great. What it shows is community. Neighborhoods living together. I think that's the main thing. Busta is a dear friend of mine. Rick and I build all the time. Rick speaks with 'Ye. 'Ye does records with Rick. Drake is working with Sean. Everybody interacts. There is no malice between anyone at all. We look at everybody else like they doing their thing.
It's great that we all out here showing people that we as black folk can be together and combine into something and do something to make music. Try to make great music. It's great to see as young black men. It's a great thing for kids to see too. Different crews making music and doing it together, you get to see how a community works, how a team works.
Nobody can do it by themselves. Nobody. We all need each other. I think we see it exercised this way, whether it be G.O.O.D., MMG, YMCMB. Because you get to literally play itself out that way. We need each other. So it's great. I think it's amazing.
What do you take from this experience?
The best is yet to come. I don't even know yet. It's been great so far so all I can do is attend and pray and put energy on it and move forward.
What would be success for you on this project?
First and foremost hopefully, it's underneath the good graces of the all mighty. Then it's for everybody. Then, hopefully I'll be able to take care of my family and be able to provide for them and be in a position where I can continue to create. Success for me is being able to move people in a positive direction, affect the world in a positive way through the music. That's success.