For months, news has been leaking out about the possible reunion of A Tribe Called Quest as Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and Ali Shaheed Muhammad came together three months ago to record the song "(ICU) Doin' It," for the upcoming Violator Records compilation, V3: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, with talk of more sessions to come. But overshadowed in that chatter is the music Q-Tip has been working on for his own solo album, Open, which he recently completed for a March 2004 release.
"I thought the word 'open' sounded cool. It spoke to a state of mind I was in, to a consciousness," Q-Tip said. "All of those positive qualities of that word, I just like how it felt. You could be open off a beat, a girl, certain things in your life, you know what I mean?"
Q-Tip recorded the album over the past three months, writing raps and music performed by a band he assembled. He took the same approach with his second solo album, 2001's Kamaal the Abstract, which was never officially released by his old record label, Arista, but found circulation online. That album received mixed critical reviews, with people praising Q-Tip's experimental spirit but blasting the results as tedious and underdeveloped.
The methods Q-Tip used on Open might have been the same, but the music is different, he clarifies. "It's all live, but it's much more shaved down. It's much cleaner, I think," he explained. "It's also much more aggressive. I really felt like I could be creative on an intimate level and I wasn't really looking to compete with this one or that one."
After Tribe called it quits in 1998, Q-Tip released Amplified. The Hype Williams-directed video for its first single, "Vivrant Thing," was more akin to the flash of Puffy and Jay-Z than the bohemian styles of Tribe, and some of his old fans were quick to label him a sellout. It's an artistic move he feels he has to defend because the criticism still rears its head. "If you really pay attention to that record, there's still things in there I usually say. I was just speaking to an audience that I never got to speak before."
Q-Tip says Open is more of an "evolution" and it will, like his other records, surprise people. "In hip-hop and urban music, you're not allowed to change and grow and explore. You're only supposed to be one way and if there are spurts of growth, it's supposed to move at a tortoise's pace. When you look at people like Miles Davis, he had the same criticism. But when you look at someone like David Bowie, he can go from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke in a matter of a year."
Q-Tip, though, is still one of the most revered icons of hip-hop's golden era, with everyone from Andre 3000 to Pharrell Williams citing him and Tribe as a defining influence on their own musical styles. That sentiment makes the anticipated Tribe reunion that much more savory.
Tip says A Tribe Called Quest's breakup after releasing The Love Movement had more to do with Jive Records than the group itself. "It wasn't really internal. They were jerking us and they were putting strains on our relationships," he revealed.
The group got together over the summer out of a curiosity to hear what they would sound like again. They were happy enough with the results to begin conversations about working on more new material (see "A Tribe Called Quest To Drop New Album In Winter 2004"), though nothing else has been recorded as of yet. "People will be surprised when it comes out," he said.