When Q-Tip picks up the phone for a recent interview with CL, you can hear a relaxed tone in his voice. He seems to be in good spirits, but as the questions flow and his answers are short, you realize maybe all isn't quite right ... and then it happens. He blows his nose and releases a couple of harsh coughs. He shakes it off though nothing happened, but kicking off a nationwide tour when you are feeling under the weather can't be fun. Especially when you're riding on a packed, loud tour bus. "There are TVs going in both rooms, so I hope you'll be able to hear me," the soft-spoken artist says.
One of the founding members of the legendary hip-hop act A Tribe Called Quest, these days, Q-Tip, 38, is focused on his solo career. He started with Tribe when he was just 18 years old -- the band broke up in 1998. The group has played a number of shows since reuniting in 2006, some as recent as this year. He says the old days with Tribe, as expected, have had a big influence on his sound today. "It's all drawing from the same well," he says. "It was a different time, though, a different age." His most recent effort, The Renaissance, was released on Nov. 4.
It wasn't supposed to take this long. He released his first solo disc, Amplified, back in 1999. Fans of Tribe thought it was too commercial, but Q-Tip says he's happy with the results. "People will always have their own opinions," he says.
The man who changed his name from Jonathan Davis to Kamaal Ibn John Fareed back in the mid-'90s was supposed to release his second disc, Kamaal the Abstract, in 2002, but the label didn't feel there were enough singles on the record and it remains unreleased. Instead of frustration, the holdup fueled Q-Tip's fire and he started writing with a fury. "[The album being shelved] was all good, because you just learn to work through it," he says. "You just have to move on and can't get hung up on stuff. I don't allow that to happen."
Since the release of Amplified, he's written a few hundred songs -- some finished, some only musically complete. "It's all good because I love creating," he says. "I was in a creative space making the music, so it was all good."
Though it would have been nice to release some of those songs a la the Radiohead/Nine Inch Nails method online or creating his own label to release them on, Q-Tip says he was legally bound due to his record contract.
Which leads him to The Renaissance, which is filled with plenty of live instrumentation and a handful of guests -- D'Angelo, Norah Jones and Raphael Saadiq among them. Q-Tip plays drums, bass and keyboards on a few tracks and says he plans to keep that live instrumentation going in the future. "It brings good feelings and helps bring out extra emotion," he says. "That's why the album sounds the way it does and stands out from a lot of other things. I'm gonna still keep it hip-hop though."
While the appearance of Jones on the track, "Life Is Betta," may seem out of place, Q-Tip says he's a fan of the jazzy singer. "I just called her and she was into it," he says. "It was great. I'm a fan, a total fan."
When you look at it that way, the album's title is no surprise -- musician, lyricist, producer (he produced all but one track on the new album), actor. It's also a rebirth from Tribe and a renaissance from Amplified.
He says it's impossible to compare the two solo albums because they are so different. He also isn't paying attention to sales charts for this release -- the album debuted at number 11 on the Billboard 200 chart, was second on the rap albums chart and third on the hip-hop albums chart. "I dig it," he says. "I think it's really good. Charts are b.s. to me. It's just about keeping it going so people can discover it."
So, what's next? Q-Tip says he is supposed to release Kamaal next year. And for those of you wondering about the status of Tribe, Q-Tip denies the rumors that the band has plans to record a new album with a simple, "no." For now, he is looking toward the future with blinders on -- Tribe is "on the back burner," Q-Tip says.
Q-Tip will perform at Amos' Southend as part of the 4th Annual 2K Sports Bounce Tour with DJ Scratch, The Cool Kids and The Knux on Saturday, Nov. 29. Advance tickets are $27.50.