Perhaps no other group in rap history defined the early-Nineties, golden-era style of hip-hop better than A Tribe Called Quest. The group put out two of the most seminal rap records of all time — Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders — which boast singles that still get spun on dance floors to this day.
At the helm of the group then and now is Q-Tip, a Queens, New York native with a poetic, nasally flow who has helped shift rap's linguistics for the past 20 years. With crisp, philosophical lyrics and didactic rhymes, Tip epitomized the "conscious MC" tag long before Mos Def, Common, and Talib Kweli made the term popular years later. He has always compelled listeners to think, move, and act.
During a recent interview, Tip (born Jonathan Davis) makes it clear he is not interested in veering from that path as an artist — ever. At age 38, he has just released a new album, The Renaissance. His first solo record in nine years, it is a shockingly well-put-together disc that could give Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III serious competition for best hip-hop album at the Grammys.
Asked if he feels like he has a lot to prove with the new album, Q-Tip answers, "Not really, 'cause hip-hop is not a sport; it's an art. At this point, I don't have to prove that I have juice left in the tank. I just have to listen to my voices and keep creating. Not to compare myself to Matisse or Miles Davis, but when you're an athlete, you have a certain chip on your shoulder, to prove that you still have that juice left. As an artist, you just keep making art — like a Stanley Kubrick — up until you die. That's how I see it."
Tip, though, is still relatively young, and certain songs off the latest disc — such as "Getting Up," "Life Is Better," and "Move" — show he's still peaking as an MC. Which begs the question: Why has he spent so much time between releasing new albums? "Label issues, man. I was on Arista for a while, and then LA Reid, he didn't think the album was commercial enough," he says. "Then I was working with DreamWorks and was about to put an album out with them, and the label folded. So it's been stuff like that keeping new songs from coming out." Throughout all of those issues, though, Q-Tip remains focused and says his commitment to true artistry hasn't wavered.
"I'm looking forward to getting back out there and touring," he says. "I'll do this till I die, bro."
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