On the danger of artists losing themselves in record contracts:
We exist in a paradigm here where it’s capitalism, we have to capitalize. So then when we enter into these contracts, into these deals, everybody, I think, is trying to look out for their best interests, but it seems the controlling factor goes beyond looking for their best interests – control. If you don’t have faith, and I’m not just talking about a faith in your talent or a faith in what you were gifted, but a faith in where that comes from. It could be rough, because you’re always going to be dealing with challenges.
On the consequences of the music industry coming late to the Internet:
I think that the music industry has missed a step or two, but one of the major steps that I think that they missed in the latter part of the last century, which they’re still kind of licking their wounds from, is not embracing the Internet and how the Internet can be another conduit for them to put out product. Where the music industry was still a little bit fat off of the CD explosion, because it’s all about ‘how many different ways can we present this that’s in a hardware?’ It’s vinyl, then when they figured out they could put the same thing out with no cost, but just on a different medium which is cassette, they reintroduced that. They have these talks with different audio companies and car companies on how they can change their formats that now can assist this – it gets a wider reach which is great for the audience and great for the artist, because now it’s dispersed on another medium. Now here comes the CD, and when everything was reissued on CD in the 90s, or the 80s rather, the music business saw a crazy surge because their catalog just got bought again by all of the consumers.
When the Internet came along, I think a lot of the gatekeepers were like ‘get away from here, kid.’ It was something they didn’t have the vision to see that far ahead – it was kind of a new thing for a lot of us on that end in the business. They didn’t really have people that could see the explosion. So now, the music business, kind of, has to re-approach it. Re-approach the contracts, re-approach how they deal with artists. They cut off different arms of their companies, like artist development arms and things of that nature, to save costs, and now it’s really about analytics and numbers and metrics to try and gauge what’s what so they can try and jump in.
On the importance of artists taking time to craft high-quality music, even though it's easier to release it now:
Putting your music out, like you said, you don’t have to wait around – you can get it going on your own. It’s really liberating to do that. The other problem on the other side of that is that because of that availability, because of that instant access, to be able to professionally gather your ideas, launch it out yourself, is that because of the ease, now a lot of people think like they can do it too, kind of. That’s a problem, because for the actual work – like I didn’t just wake up and just do it – I had to still work, it’s work. You have to put that time in. You have to put the hours in. You have to put the days in. And you can’t cut corners, because if you do, all that easy access to be able to make stuff and push a button and put it out – you may catch a look initially, but because of the lack of work and substance that’s there, it’s going to be short-lived. So, I would encourage everybody that, because yes, there is an ease and a quicker track to getting your thoughts and ideas out there, you still can’t duck the responsibility that you need to have to your craft.
On how music has become a part of the way he has coped with the pain of loss:
It’s cathartic. It’s a refuge. That’s one of the things that unifies all of us under the auspices of art. It could be music, or literature, or film or what have you; these things are able to potentially encapsulate where you are in your life, good, bad, or otherwise. These things are able to encapsulate how you feel about yourself or the world or about others in a specific way. These things are able to encapsulate your queries or your pains or your questions or your sadness, and they’re also able to help build you, and make you, and inspire you to go forward. So for me, watching my father basically pass for over a year in front of me, and then him passing when I was 16, the music was always a safe haven for me. It was a place where I got to express myself. It was definitely a refuge.
On performing as A Tribe Called Quest (On Saturday Night Live), without Phife:
It was very trying, but it was also cathartic too. We were still working it out. I’m sure some of the people who were watching or listening were still kind of working out that loss for them, but just loss in general. For me personally, it was something – you know, after that we did a few shows. But I couldn’t move without him there. It was definitely a lot. But I’m happy I accepted that challenge and went through it and experienced that. And I’m able to call it out and notate what I was feeling. I think that was instrumental for my continued growth. But yeah, it was tough. When you hear the voice, and you’re on stage – it’s something that not only did we build it, but I knew him since we were four years old. To lose your friend – it’s not many people that you grow up with since four, that you still stay in contact with through your latter years, and on top of it, create something with that person, and make something with that person. And, on top of that, make something that people seem to dig, you know what I’m saying?
On the legacy of Native Tongues and the emergence of A Tribe Called Quest in black culture:
I think that at the time, we were just blessed to be able to be at the right time at the right place – that’s part of it. Also, prior to us, you were starting to see the different shades of black complexity through this music. On its initial implosion from the early '70s up into the '80s, it was kind of like a smaller dimension, but like most things that grow, it started to widen, and then through that it was able to carve out paths for other people to enter. You know, at that time, we were able to express that we were more than one dimension. We don’t just do X. We do A and D and H and J – just like everybody else. Because we were one of the first to have that position about showing our complexity, and showing our levels, and showing our depth – I think that’s probably why you still, you see J. Cole and you see Kendrick – there’s still outgrowths of that.
On whether he's an "iceberg" who has 90 percent of the music he's made still unreleased:
Yeah, yeah I do. Which is probably why Prince is my boy. I have a lot of stuff, but I’m striving to put it all out. There’s other things that happen in life that you kind of have to tend to, as well, and take care of, but I’m confident that all of that stuff will see the light of day, and I can continue to do that.
On the work that goes into creating Abstract Radio on Apple Music:
You can’t get that time back. So I try to make it enjoyable and again, palatable, for everybody who can be potentially checking it out. It makes me happy. I feel connected, energized, peace with it – you know, fun. It informs – because I get to through mixing, I put myself where I have to listen to a whole bunch of new things. I really try to source out certain things and make certain musical connections between something that could be present day that people haven’t looked at and something that could have been yesterday …
… and is the lesson from your to do work that makes you hone the fundamentals of your craft …?
…that makes you work. That makes you not think about the fact that you’re doing work. Do work that makes you not think about the fact that you’re doing work. Before we set off to do our work, we could be anxious or doubt or nervous or whatever. But the minute we drop into, and we step – 'cause we have to do it – so when you drop into it, and you get into it, it’s almost like when you start running for all you runners out there. After you hit a certain pace, your endorphins kick in, it gets bright, and you can go a bit further. You don’t think about the pace, at a point, that you’re running, because you’re working and it starts to feel good and it builds you. So when you do work that makes you not think that it’s work, and you drop in, you start to do it – it feeds you, it builds you. The work it becomes rote, it’s a mediation, and then by the time it’s done, it’s like, "Wow, I did that?"
On the uneasy alliance between artists and streaming services:
For them it’s really about market share. It's about consumption. It’s about having the most to be the biggest. Because when you’re a conglomerate in that way, you kind of become – like, I don’t know if you’re into comics, but you become Galactus. And Galactus was the one going around swallowing worlds. That’s all he did was swallow worlds.
So, who's going to be Silver Surfer?
See? Silver Surfer. And that’s where I believe Jay-Z is Silver Surfer, and QuestLove is Silver Surfer, and I can be Silver Surfer. Instead of airing complaints and stuff like that, you have to kind of see it from both sides. You have to put yourself in their shoes, right? So I understand that in order for Galactus to survive, his practical need is to eat worlds. In order for Norrin Radd, or Silver Surfer, to save his world, he says, look, "I love my dear world of peace so much, I’ll go out and get other ones, but leave this one alone." So I understand Norrin Radd’s position. You’re dealing with something that’s just one-dimensional, you have to consume, cause if they don’t have market share, then they fall. That’s bottom line. There’s thousands and thousands of people who work at these companies. People. They have to sustain themselves and their lives.
A big shout-out to CNBC producer Tyler Eyre, who worked to book Q-Tip, transcribe the interview, and get the video edited.