Paul D. Miller: Hey Kamal. How’s everything?
Q-Tip: I’ve been chillin’, just working.
PDM: I know you’ve got the new project with Kanye West coming up, The Last Zulu. The whole idea of tracing your genetic chart back to South Africa was kind of cool. Do you want to speak on that for a second—genetics and beats?
Q-Tip: Genetics and beats? I feel like the drumbeat is a natural thing. Our heartbeat moves at a certain BPM. The drumbeat, being the first instrument, the platform for us, being that we all kind of come from that—it’s all beats. For me, in particular coming up in the Zulu Nation in New York City to find the lineage to the Zulu tribe in South Africa. I traced my DNA and it turned out that my genetic roots were from Zulu in South Africa.
PDM: Let’s talk about beats. You’re an actor, a rhymer, a conceptualist, and I know you’re into painting, as well.
Q-Tip: Beats, rhymes, poetry—it’s all abstract. I play with that in a way that’s real but different. I love painting, too. Basquiat, beats, deejay cuts, and scratches on records. Vinyl and shit, it’s all part of the same thing. I keep it abstract.
PDM: Let’s talk about lyrics versus Basquiat. Basquiat started as a deejay and painter. I’ve always viewed you as a lyricist who plays with words like they’re on a kind of canvas. The idea of abstraction is not something you’re frightened of. Lots of hip hop artists are so busy trying to make their cypher, they always talk about realism. But realism from your point of view, or at least for me as a deejay who’s collected a lot of your records over the years—Q-Tip, I’ve loved your work for many years, you know that, right?—and that conceptual Zulu Nation pan-human angle. That’s Futurism.
How did you go from thinking about the “Native Tongues” concept to action? Because Beats, Rhymes, and Life, the Michael Rappaport film that you were in—it was decent and cool, but it showed a lot of tension, and you’ve always been somebody that builds bridges. The idea is as powerful as the word.
Q-Tip: For me with art and all that stuff—I like abstraction. I like contortion. I mean, it’s still truth. But it’s truth through the center of the individual. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s fallacies or falsehoods. It just happens to be one perception of what’s happening. We all have our own takes on things. To being yourself. The abstract, the whole thing that I play with, seems to result in seeing through your lenses, and once you express how you see things to others, you start to see there are similarities between all people. It’s kind of like, no matter how far you go, you’re still where you started, in a way.
PDM: Right now there are two people from the hip hop generation doing a lot film. One is RZA. And he started as a producer and then did soundtracks and now is a director. The other is 50 Cent, who is acting in a lot of films. Queen Latifah, LL Cool J. And then of course there’s the controversy with Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino. Have you seen Django Unchained yet?
Q-Tip: It was entertaining, as movies go. I didn’t think that it was necessarily derogatory or an unfair portrayal of African-Americans during the slave trade. But I don’t think the film was about the slave trade. It kind of resembled Blazing Saddles to me. The antihero comes to town to right the wrongs, to uphold something that’s good. Whereas Django is really a love story about a man wanting to reunite with his wife. Trapping him just happens to be, you know, pre-Civil War America, slavery America. And being a delicate environment, the trinkets and monikers of slavery abound. Some may have thought the usage of the word ‘nigger’ was a bit gratuitous on Quentin’s part. And who knows—the director could have put his own personal thing into it, but I think overall as a film, I didn’t view it as egregious in its forming a story. I didn’t think that it was offensive.
PDM: If you look at Melvin Van Peebles, or Gordon Parks Shaft, what’s so beautiful about that—the way that you deal with beats and the way RZA deals with beats, it’s a cinematic flow—he transferred from making mix tapes with kung fu clips from old Shaw Brother’s Film Studio clips cut up over beats. The dialogues would come from old Chinese films, Hong Kong classics, into directing. I like to think of the emcee as a director, the way that you guys tell the story. Do you want to talk about cinema a little bit?
Q-Tip: I’m a cinephile. I love movies, I love film at every level. I’m a student of it. It informs me as does all art in my music, because there’s stories, there’s acts, there’s moods, there’s dynamics, there’s moodiness, emotion. All of those things that play into a film. I think that could equally be said about music. It definitely informs me. Beats is stories.
PDM: What’s up with your deejay style these days? Last couple times I heard you, you were playing everything from the Police on over to ESG. Any new styles that you’re checking out? Kuduro out of Angola? Brazilian baile funk? Dancehall?
Q-Tip: I try to check in with all of it. As long as it has some sort of soul to it. I like music with soul and passion and the good of humanity. As long as it has those things, I’m all the way in.
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