I can remember it like it was yesterday. I was 12 years old when I heard my first A Tribe Called Quest song. “Award Tour” came on the radio and I froze…just sat and listened. I immediately went out to buy that tape at the record store down the street from me (back then we had tapes and records, not CDs). I still rock that album like it was a gift from Santa on Christmas.
I really didn’t know what hip-hop was at the age of 12, but when I heard that song, I knew I had to hear more of where it came from. Listening to hip-hop was like listening to a bedtime story; I ALWAYS had to hear one…and I couldn’t go to sleep without one. And if hip-hop was the story, the storyteller I loved most was Q-Tip. His melodic voice and fresh rhymes kept me coming back for more. So you can understand that when I was presented with the opportunity to interview him for my first column, I jumped at it. After clearly having to compose myself and calm the screaming 12-year-old inside me, I sat down and thought, well, what am I going to ask him? And then like water through a faucet it just started to flow.
Altice: You started out as a DJ alongside Red Alert and now several years later, after much success with ATCQ and solo, you have ventured back to DJing. Any particular reason?
Q-Tip: I just love it, and I felt like there is a void in the club scene. You can go to any club anywhere and hear all Top 40, or dance
and electronic, and some cats are cool, there are some levels of creativity that go into it, but it really goes into their own personal mixes.
They stamp the party with their own mixes of current hits, different mixes, or their own creations, but so much of the stuff that it comes from, the OG stuff, is what’s been missing. A lot of open-format stuff is also hard to find.
So for many years I have been playing spots like LIFE, which I did with Mark Ronson. Then we each did our own thing at this spot Table 50 and then The Ace.
I have always tried to keep the good party going, playing spots where it’s open format, ’cause I just felt something was missing. In the long run, the reason why I still do it is because I’m filling a void. I love it. I love doing it and watching people move and what they react to. And I use it as a way to discover new records and meld them with old and all that, and I just felt it’s a void ’cause there are a lot of guys that do the same thing.
Altice: What are your favorite recent gigs?
Q-Tip: My favorite gig is probably the gig I used to do at The Ace Hotel. Those are really fun ’cause I got to spin a whole bunch of stuff like Lil Wayne, “A Milli” rocking with “‘Whatcha See is Whatcha Get” by the Dramatics. I did a blend of those things, it was really working. And Stephanie Mills, “Something In The Way You Make Me Feel” acapella with “Be Happy” – Mary J. Blige. I would do different mixes down here that was really killing and the system was dope, so those parties are really fun.
Altice: What was your most memorable night as a DJ?
Q-Tip: When I was DJin’ at this spot called Mars in the city, ’89 maybe, it was amazing. Me and Ali, we DJed there, it was great.
Altice: What is your go-to equipment or DJ program, or do you still prefer vinyl?
Q-Tip: I really do prefer vinyl but I DJ on Serato and Traktor with vinyl. I like the feel.
Altice: Do you find the advances in technology a positive or a negative for the DJ world? Some would say there are too many people out there who “think they a DJ.” Do you agree?
Q-Tip: Yes, everybody can’t do it all. Just because you have a playlist and an iPod, you put it on when friends are over, it doesn’t make you a DJ.
But on the other hand, I love the encouragement and inquisitiveness of folks into the whole world [of DJing], but you really have to submerge yourself with all different types of music. Sometimes not just your taste.
I have seen DJs, very well known DJs that people really check out, and I’ll watch them play sometimes and they will just play and don’t even read the room. They will just play their taste, and they will kind of lose them. But we are in a society where people are so taken by celebrities and personalities that “celebrity DJs” are playing this uneducated music, people will still stand and groove with them. So they will keep going, playing the shit that only they like.
And that’s not good. You gotta read crowds and understand the temperature, you gotta know what records move where, if something doesn’t work how to get out of it, you set records up, sometimes you will start out with one song just to get to that fifth song. You will set it up four or five songs prior to the one you know is really gonna hit.
Some cats don’t even know how to do that. So it’s really a study, you can’t just up and say, “Oh I am a DJ, look,” you gotta really understand music and understand emotion and how to read rooms.
Some cats lean on the Top 40 crutch and only play that stuff, and it works but it’s not really any advancement of your personality as a DJ, you are just a Push n Play.
Altice: Watch the Throne was one of my favorite albums of the year, so I have to ask, what was it like working with Kanye?
Q-Tip: It was cool. He is a very talented guy, he likes to push the envelope, meld and mix and match. He is really an orchestrator, I would say. And a friend, so it was cool.
[The day I interviewed him, Q-Tip signed with G.O.O.D. Music, Kanye West’s record label. Fat Joe, a well-known rapper and collaborator of Kanye’s, said to MTV recently he believes his recent deal with Yeezy's G.O.O.D. Music will further cement he is a musical genius. "Smartest thing Kanye West ever did," Joe said of the signing.]