Q-Tip: Crafting Classics With Kanye & Jay-Z; Playing Miles Davis on Screen

Despite having five albums with A Tribe Called Quest, three solo albums of his own, four Grammy nominations (including one win), and roles in nine films under his belt, Q-Tip claims his career still hasn’t peaked yet. He’s seems just as hungry for success as any unsigned artist that looks up to him. Currently wrapping up his yet-to-be-named fourth solo album, the New York native is also working on Kanye West’s highly anticipated follow up to 808’s & Heartbreaks, while still finding time to work on multiple movies and plays. As if this wasn’t enough, along with The Roots, Q-Tip will also be co-curating this year’s Hennessy Artistry series.

XXLMag.com sat down with Q-Tip to discuss the upcoming tour, embodying the spirit of the legendary jazz great Miles Davis in a new play, working with Kanye, and why anyone that missed the Rock the Bells Tribe reunion show is fresh outta luck.

XXLMag.com: What’s it like to co-curate Hennessy tour with The Roots?

Q-Tip: It’s just four shows, so it’s not as heavy as people think. Amir [?uestlove] just kinda puts the music together the way he wants it and everyone rocks with it… It’s about putting the different artists together and letting them mix in their natural elements.

Did you guys help Hennessy decide to add the charitable partnership with Americans for the Arts?

We picked the winner for it—it was a contest. But I thought it was very noble of them to do that. At the end of the day, it’s about giving back and giving to charity, you know? So again, kudos to Hennessy for giving back and doing something like that

Looking back on your career, what’s been the most rewarding part for you?

Just being blessed with the opportunity to express myself through a form. I’m in a hallowed league of artists. Whether it’s Billie Holiday or Rakim or Jimmy Hendrix or… I don’t know, MGMT, we’re all blessed to be able to create. It’s a lineage that extends a long time. And to be able to be active in it and have made a difference in it, it’s humbling. To know I had a place in all of this; that’s the rewarding part.

What’s been the most challenging part of the journey?

The business, quite honestly. A lot of people who curate in the business, and curate the art don’t really have good artistic sense. They may know commerce, but they aren’t savvy enough to know how to balance commerce and art, you know? They don’t know how to satisfy both palates. I hope this doesn’t sound scathing but they’re not visionary enough to know how to do that. So dealing with those personalities and the people who run this music thing has been most challenging. It’s hard to really communicate things to people who run a business yet forget the nature of the business. They only look at the bottom line and the financial return, you know, they forget what it is they’re packaging. It’s art. That’s the biggest challenge

Sounds like a classic case of industry rule No. 4,080. Any temptation to shift your focus to primarily acting any time soon?

No, but I am working right now with Barbara De Fina who produced all of the Martin Scorsese films from Raging Bull to Gangs of New York. She’s producing a film that’s also gonna be for my next record. I’m looking forward to that. I also have a play I did with Nelson George about Miles Davis and that’s looking pretty promising. I love acting.

Are you actually playing Miles?

Yes, I am.

Are you nervous?

Nah, not really, because I relate to him. But I was a lil nervous at first. But we’ve already done some table readings and Miles’ nephew, and some of his really close friends that he knew for many years—a girlfriend of two—and some of his old band mates have checked out the table reading like, “Oh, shit, they nailed it.” So that made it easier for me. It let me know my instincts are right.

You’re also slated to appear on Kanye’s new album. What can we expect from that project?

This album is, in a good way, going backwards. He’s such an artist. He knows exactly what he’s doing. When he did [808s & Heartbreaks] that was such a departure from College Dropout. But now he’s stepping backwards so this album will be more of a sonic extension of College Dropout and Graduation but he’s doing it with a new attitude. He’s looking forward but reaching back, which is interesting. It’s a calculated toe in yesterday’s water if that makes any sense at all (laughs).

It’s definitely a daring next move. What’s your next musical move?

You know, I hate to sound self-involved but I feel like I haven’t peaked yet. I have a lot to give still. I still look the part… I still got it. I’m getting ready to work on stuff for Mary J. Blige… Kanye and I are gonna continue to work together. We’re doing some stuff for Jay-Z’s new album that’s coming out in the spring, and then after Jay’s thing I’m gonna start recording my new album…Kanye should be working on that, too.

You’re also doing a documentary about the legacy of A Tribe Called Quest. What can we expect from that?

Well, Michael Rappaport directed it, and I’m waiting to see it. I haven’t seen it but I hear it’s really good. I don’t think we’re gonna make Sundance this year but we’ll send it to some of the other festivals and see. We’re definitely gonna put it up for Cannes, and someone will pick it up for sure

Can we look forward to another Tribe reunion soon?

Well, after the documentary that’s it. we did our last shows at Rock the Bells. We’ll probably just support the film and that’s it… We’ll probably just see each other at other
ceremonious moments. —Aliya Ewing