Quincy Jones, “Success Comes Before Work Only in the Dictionary.”
There was a time when hip-hop as a genre didn’t formally exist, most albums had more than one or two quality records and there was an emphasis on the craft of music making without any assistance from AutoTune. It was a period that helped foster the development of one of the music industry’s titans, Quincy Jones. With credits on albums that have collectively sold over 150 million records, as well as producing, composing and arranging for everyone from Michael Jackson to Melle Mel, Quincy is the man. Over the years he’s managed to become a hip-hop godfather to the genre’s biggest stars such as Snoop Dogg and Ludacris. So it’s no surprise that those artists along with Q-Tip, Jermaine Dupri, Akon and numerous others teamed up to celebrate the icon by covering his classics on the upcoming tribute project, Q: Soul Bossa Nostra.
But Quincy isn’t just sitting back and resting on his laurels. As he revealed in this chat with XXLMag.com, he admires the hip-hop community for its business grind but he knows that there is more work to be done when it comes to creating quality music, combating piracy and more. It’s time to take lessons from the Soul Boss.
XXLMag.com: Hip-hop artists tend to give you the utmost respect. Do you think that’s partly because you’re such a hard worker?
Quincy Jones: Yes, it’s probably because I survived six decades. When I started I learned my core skill as well as I could with Ray Charles to bebop, big band and everything. I learned how to do it all. By the time I went to work with [Frank] Sinatra I was ready for him. Since 13, I worked like a dog. Success comes before work only in the dictionary. It takes work to learn the science and emotions will drive it. Music is the only thing that engages the left and right brain and you need the science to project your emotions.
What are your thoughts on the present condition of the music industry with piracy and low record sales?
The current state of all music is facing a dilemma of piracy of 90-95%, which is a catastrophe in the record business all over the world. Everybody is stealing all the music and it’s on both people. If you only make one or two hits people aren’t gonna pay for a package. Back in the day we came up with five No. 1’s and seven top 5 hits to make it worth it for someone wanting to own the package. We need to get back to that which takes work.
Hip-hop has come a long way in terms of mainstream recognition so what are your thoughts on the genre as it stands today?
The entrepreneurship is admirable. We couldn’t spell that in our time. We didn’t care about money or fame but now they discovered it on a big level. But the hip-hop nation can revolutionalize education all over the planet with its colloquialism. Most of the slang from hip-hop comes from bebop. Lester Young was calling people homeboy, cribs and cool and all that. So now it’s time to get some content in there and have some things to say. They can use mathematics, history or anything else and translate it into their language and that can help the education system a lot.
How did you choose the artists for this Q: Soul Bossa Nostra project?
I didn’t choose them they chose themselves. This started with Timbaland saying they want to do a hip-hop tribute to my songs so I said great because I know all these guys. They tried to get me involved but not on a creative level. I’m not gonna get involved on a tribute to myself. I don’t need that. I was just touched by the notion they would do it.
As an executive producer on the record did you have any hand in conceptualizing the sonic direction of the album?
I didn’t plan it they just came in. Jennifer [Hudson] wanted to do “You Put a Move On My Heart,” Snoop wanted to do “Get The Funk Out Of My Face” and Akon did “Strawberry Letter 23.” I’ve known them a long time and I love the way everybody did their thing. It’s an evolution really. When I first met LL Cool J in 1985 with Russell Simmons he said, “What do the musicians and singers think about us?” He’s right it’s a third genre influenced by griots in West Africa and the Imbangala from South Africa. It all has roots and they go way back. I expect everybody to know where you come from. You have to work to find out what your roots are all about.
You’re coming out with a book, The Quincy Jones Legacy Series: Q on Producing that’s aimed at giving advice to producers and artists. So what’s your advice to those aspiring to break into the hip-hop scene?
To grow and listen to all kinds of music to help influence you to go in a more forward direction. When we were kids with Ray Charles we played everything from bebop to pop and R&B. A lot of people said I sold out but we played that stuff when I was 13 and that’s no big deal. My greatest pride and joy is a photo from Duke Ellington and it says, “May you be one of the ones to help decategorize music.” I hate guys who categorize music. Play what you know how to play. —Souleo