While November 4 was obviously a day of celebration for many people around the country, when Barack Obama was elected president of the United States , veteran rapper [artist id="508501"]Q-Tip[/artist] cheered the day for another, more personal reason: the release of his second solo album, The Renaissance. Fans of the [artist id="1150"]A Tribe Called Quest[/artist] MC could further rejoice: It was his first solo LP to come out in nine years, after false starts shelved two previous, completed albums.
“I believe in what I’m doing, and I love this music, so those things in combination were motivation for me to keep going,” Q-Tip told MTV News, explaining how two full-length albums — Kamaal the Abstract (2001) and Open (2005) — were both recorded, mastered and held up by his record labels. “I’m not a quitter.”
In that way, The Renaissance is a triumph for Q-Tip. Kamaal the Abstract was recorded with a live band and featured Q-Tip experimenting with hippie-era pop influences, while Open was a free-flowing, deliberately non-commercial rap escapade. Both were never released, primarily because industry executives were cautious about his chances competing with the new, younger stars of the day — the [artist id="760701"]Nelly[/artist]s, [artist id="1243444"]Jeezy[/artist]s and [artist id="2814953"]Soulja Boy[/artist]s. Tip’s persistence in the face of such indifference, though, is one of his charms.
Indeed, Q-Tip has had his ups and downs in the industry, first emerging as one of the most iconic voices of the early ’90s hip-hop scene. He seemed to reinvent himself in 1999, with the release of his first solo album, Amplified, which found him discovering a new take on club-banging hip-hop. Since then, people have questioned whether a 38-year-old veteran of another era has a place in today’s rap world.
But several signs in recent years point to a rap renaissance, if you will: the emergence of Kanye West as one of hip-hop’s biggest stars; the ascendency of the late J Dilla as an underground idol (Dilla’s early work was in conjunction with Q-Tip); and the celebration of “throwback” artists like the [artist id="2816593"]Cool Kids[/artist], [artist id="3066140"]Kid Cudi[/artist] and [artist id="2487928"]Pacific Division[/artist], who clearly take their cues from Q-Tip’s Native Tongues heyday.
Tip also sees the climate in hip-hop changing. “You have some people who have cracked through, a [artist id="1230523"]Kanye[/artist] or an [artist id="1636205"]Andre 3000[/artist] or a [artist id="510062"][Lil] Wayne[/artist], who I think is lyrically just a monster,” Tip said. “Eventually, the tide is starting to give way back to how things were, when people are starting to pay attention to the quality of the music, not on, ‘I’m not a good rapper, I’m a good hustler,’ you know?
“I just want to put out something dope; that’s the credence that I’ve tried to follow and stick to through the years,” Q-Tip explained. “Sometimes it’s questionable, I guess, but for the most part, people invest in you because of your taste barometer, so I try to keep mine in the red.”
Tip maintains that barometer by diving into the culture of music the way he has since he was a young man. He regularly ducks into hole-in-the-wall record stores to keep up on his beat shopping. Before leaving on the 2K Sports Bounce Tour, his most recent tour with the Cool Kids, he live-streamed his impromptu, hours-long, jam-band rehearsals to any and all viewers. And he DJs a weekly Friday night party at an underground New York hot spot that has quickly become one of the city’s best.
“I love DJing because it puts me in a position where I have to pay attention to what people want to hear, in a very direct way,” he said. “Clubs and DJing and parties is like the church of hip-hop. It brings in so many different people from different backgrounds, colors and denominations for one cause. I think that’s pretty powerful and influences me when I’m making music.”
Tip knows that he probably won’t sell as many records as some of his counterparts, or may not dominate in emerging music-industry markets like ringtones and commercial endorsements. But having seen it all in his 20 years in the music business, he seems genuinely at peace with that.
“I just think people should do what they feel,” he said. “You can’t please everybody all the time, obviously. You just gotta do what inspires you, what motivates you. And if you do that in an honest way, people can’t help but respect it.”